Sunday slant: Contractual concerns

An uncertain time in labor negotiations has created a glut of potential free agents at the end of the 2010 season, and the Vikings have at least a handful of starters and many more backups with uncertain futures. It will make for a busy and interesting negotiating room in the coming year.

July 4. Independence day for a nation.

A year from now, fans could be bemoaning the independence of NFL players. Labor strife could be as thick as the dripping humidity of next year's summer, as the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players union is set to expire after the 2010 season.

Nobody knows for sure when the drop-dead date is if no new agreement is reached and there are so many issues to iron out – from the percentage of revenue owners are willing to put into a salary cap, a rookie salary scale, adding games to the regular season and suspension procedures, just to name a few – that it seems like a long shot a deal will be done anytime soon.

But even if a deal is reached before the end of this season, the uncertainty of the situation is affecting players already, including the Vikings. It's difficult for teams to get serious about spending tens of millions of dollars to extend contracts when they don't know the parameters they will be working under in future years. Will there be a salary cap and, if so, how much will it be and what will be the working rules within it?

All the uncertainty has a lot of current – and many important – Vikings entering the final year of their contracts.

Brett Favre, who is scheduled to make $13 million in 2010 if he returns for his 20th NFL season (is there anyone left that believes he won't?), is in the final year of his deal. If you thought the speculation on his future this spring and summer was painful, wait until his contract is expiring and he doesn't have to commit to any specific team.

But Favre is hardly alone in contract uncertainty. More than 25 Vikings are entering the final year of their deal.

Several of them were caught up in the restrictions of the CBA because it was entering the "Final League Year," as that extensive document phrases it. That meant free agents needed six years of service to become unrestricted instead of four years, the previous standard. That has also helped increase the number of players who could potentially hit the market in 2011, because teams seemed more willing to simply offer a one-year tender instead of a long-term contract extension.

Tarvaris Jackson is one of the affected players in that category, meaning it's possible that when the 2010 season ends the Vikings will have no quarterbacks with playing experience in their system under contract.

Jackson wasn't the only starter in the Class of 2006 that was hurt by the new rules of free agency. DE Ray Edwards was upset with the situation and opted to wait until mid-June to sign his one-year tender, allowing him to skip all of the offseason practices without penalty. Ryan Cook, Fred Evans, Eric Frampton and Naufahu Tahi were all given one-year tenders.

If the same rules of free agency apply in 2011, another crop of free agents will be restricted as well, including Edwards' backup, Brian Robison. If Edwards needs another year of service before gaining his unrestricted freedom, the Vikings would likely choose between him and Robison, with rookie Everson Griffen waiting in the wings.

But those are just some of the players affected by the newfound labor uncertainty. There are plenty more, and some of them are every bit as important as Jackson, Edwards and Robison. In fact, linebacker could be the most affected position because of the lack of proven depth behind the starters.

Ben Leber is in the final year of his contract, but he is also scheduled to be joined in free agency by Chad Greenway. Leber should be unrestricted no matter what kind of deal might be struck, but Greenway's status is probably going to be determined by the results of a new CBA. Even one of the top backups at the position, Erin Henderson, is in the last year of his deal.

And the starters in the final year of their contracts continue to roll off the roster with a concerned look to the future: Sidney Rice, Ryan Longwell, Lito Sheppard (a potential starter with Cedric Griffin's injury) and Pat Williams.

Sometimes independence is good, but when realizing the contract work ahead for the franchise, Vikings fans might feel some trepidation over the impending situation.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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