With news that the NFL is days of ending the lockout, one topic that has been floated on a new collective bargaining agreement pertains to this year’s free agent crop. During the old CBA players that had four years of service were eligible for unrestricted free agency through 2009. But when the salary cap expired last offseason a clause was trigged requiring six years in the league for players to shop their services to any possible team. And here we are without a CBA and a glut of free agents set to hit the open market leaving owners wondering what to do.
The specific idea that has been floated and now carries weight would offer teams the right-of-first-refusal option to match outside offers to one or more of their own free agents when the league’s calendar year begins. And how the right-of-first-refusal option work, lets use our own Sidney Rice as an example.
We’ve written in the past how Sidney could end up a Chicago Bear. Well say the Chicago Bears hypothetically signed him to an offer sheet of 4 years for $40 million. The Vikings would then have a set time frame (guessing 2-3 days) to match that offer. If the Vikings wouldn’t match, Sidney leaves with no compensation to us. If we do match, Sidney stays with us on the terms of that deal. But it’s also a double-edged sword for the Bears. Say Sidney stays with Minnesota on a matched deal; the Bears are then forced to explain to their wide receiver they were out trying to find a replacement or two. Would we want the Bears to be worse off than us as Vikings fans? Absolutely. But it also could work against us if we tried and failed to sign an interior o-lineman away from another team.
One person of significance that has spoken on the right-of-first-refusal has been agent Ben Dogra (who represents over 100 football players, including Adrian Peterson). Said Dogra “If the teams get the three or four (right-of-first-refusal) tags — or if they just get one — that’s a clear and huge hindrance on the players’ ability to change teams in free agency. Franchise players don’t move, restricted free agents don’t move. … The more tags you give (teams), the worse it is for the players.”
Of course Dogra is interested in having his players get the largest deals possible, however the right-of-first-refusal tag could very well be part of the 2011 season. Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks suggested today that the league “is not thought to be ready to go to the wall and delay a labor settlement over the issue” but it must be negotiated on how “as many as three right of first refusals per team for their own unrestricted free agents” is a possibility and that the “players might be willing to throw the owners a bone and give them one right of first refusal per team for this year only.”
In the event that teams would have one right-of-first-refusal tag as part of the new CBA, the Vikings would undoubtedly use that on ed to use that on Sidney Rice to pay him his fair market value and let Ray Edwards walk. Rick Spielman has spoken on numerous occasions on how he’d like to keep Sidney in purple and the team already gave defensive end Brian Robison a new 3-year deal worth $14.1 million deal. Plus Sidney has suggested on his blog he’d like to remain a Viking and Ray has done dumb things like launching a boxing career to proclaim himself a “Former MN Viking”.
On Banks’ news the chances of Sidney staying a Viking are now slightly better than 50%. But this is an atypical offseason, news is very fluid and in the words of Brad Childress “stay tuned”.
Jon Merckle may be followed on Twitter @thevikingpig