We’ve debated it all off-season. Should the Vikings use their franchise tag on Chad Greenway? Sidney Rice? Should they even use it at all? Should we really care that much when we know the expiration of the CBA might wipe out all the tags anyway?
Now the debate can end. The Vikings have announced that they will place the franchise tag on linebacker Chad Greenway, guaranteeing that he will remain a Viking at least through 2011 (barring some team doing something really, really silly).
According to the wonks, the franchise tag will guarantee Greenway around $10 million for 2011. Assuming there is a 2011. The Vikings may still work out a long-term deal with Greenway when/if a new CBA is reached.
The big question on everyone’s mind now concerns the impact of this decision on Sidney Rice, the other player the Vikings were believed to be pondering using the tag on. Without the franchise tag protection on him, Rice may seek out a deal with a new team. The New England Patriots are one squad that is believed to be interested in Rice.
Of course the Vikings could still elect to work out a long-term deal with Rice themselves – if they are in fact still interested in having him around.
On talent, Rice would seem worthy of a lucrative, long-term contract. But if you look a little closer you realize how problematic this situation becomes.
First off there’s the injury situation. Outside of his brilliant 2009 year, Rice has not stayed healthy. He missed three games in 2008 with a strained PCL and was clearly limited in those games he was able to suit up for. And of course we all remember what happened in 2010. After suffering a bad hip injury in the NFC Championship Game, Rice elected to put off surgery until late into the off-season, causing him to miss half the year.
Rice’s handling of his injury, believed to be influenced by the team’s reluctance to offer him a new contract, caused some to question his commitment. The loss of Rice set off a domino effect: To help compensate for their lost #1 receiver the Vikings traded Benny Sapp for Greg Camarillo, hurting their cornerback depth (a situation that would prove devastating later in the year). Rice’s absence also prompted Brad Childress to trade a 3rd round pick for Randy Moss, a decision that hastened Childress’ exit from Minnesota.
Rice can’t be faulted for the questionable personnel moves made in the wake of his injury, but he can be faulted for apparently pouting over his contract instead of having his hip operated on. Another thing factoring against Rice is his occasional lack of 100% effort even after returning from the injury. Outside of one magnificent game against Buffalo, Rice was almost a non-presence for the Vikings down the stretch last year, and there were a few plays where the spirit of Loafing Moss seemed to possess him.
Take everything together – the injury history, the questions about his commitment and attitude – and you can see why the Vikings would be reluctant to pay Rice the high number that would go with the franchise tag. You can also see why they would be reticent to lock him up long-term.
Of course there’s danger in not retaining Rice as well. The Vikings aren’t exactly deep in receivers beyond Percy Harvin, and with a young quarterback looking likely to take the reins next year, you need all the reliable targets you can get. If the Vikes do lose Rice, they will have to find someone to replace him as a deep threat (someone not named Bernard Berrian).
In the last analysis, I think it was prudent to use the tag on Greenway instead of Rice. Greenway has proven himself durable after suffering a fluke injury before his rookie year and missing the entire season, and he has developed into a top-drawer linebacker and team leader. Rice has had the one brilliant year, and outside of that has been neither durable nor leader-like.
There’s also the question of how Rice would’ve reacted to being tagged. If you do have hope of keeping him long-term, it might’ve been a bad move to irritate the receiver by using the hammer on him. And since the tag might end up being nullified by the expiration of the CBA anyway…well, like I said, no sense hitting Rice in his sore spot if you don’t have to.
Fans will of course grumble if Rice is lost after not being tagged, but these are the tough decisions organizations have to make. You don’t get to keep everyone.