It’s going to be a few days yet – maybe a couple of weeks if you believe some reports – before the lockout officially ends and teams can begin working out their roster situations by cutting players and trying to re-sign those free agents they wish to have back. In the meantime, there’s nothing much to do but speculate. And speculate.
The big name on Viking fans’ minds is Sidney Rice. For the second straight off-season we are forced to wonder about the receiver’s future with the team. Last year it was the hip, which for awhile we feared might actually end his career, and this year it’s his contract status, which is about as up in the air as anything possibly can be.
When the lockout finally does end, teams will have a 72-hour window to re-sign their own free agents. Rice could presumably be locked up by the Vikings during this window, but I wouldn’t count on this happening. In fact I’d be shocked if it happens. Rice has made it clear he means to test the market, and unless the Vikings bowl him over with an offer, that is exactly what he will do.
Chances are some team out there with a ton of cap room – maybe the Bears – will throw a large pile of money at Rice’s feet. Then the Vikings will be forced to come up with a better offer or watch Rice leave. The question is, will the Vikings even have the cap space to make that kind of offer? Right now they are expected to be $5 million over the cap, and even after cutting some players and restructuring some deals, they aren’t exactly going to have a ton of money to play with.
Keep in mind also that at some point the Vikings will have to address Adrian Peterson. And down the road they will have to deal with Percy Harvin. It becomes fair to ask, given all the financial issues and future contract problems facing the team, if it makes any sense to try and keep Rice at all.
Let’s be brutally honest about Rice: He had one great year, with a Hall of Famer throwing to him. Other than that what has he done? He’s been injured a lot, and when he has played he’s been pedestrian, except for a couple flashes in the middle of last season before he got knocked out with a concussion. Does that sound to you like a guy who’s worth paying like a top 10 receiver?
I grant you, when Rice was good he was spectacular. In 2009 he was arguably one of the three best receivers in the league. But that was 2009. Since then he’s had hip surgery, he’s grumbled openly about his contract and he’s generally acted like a guy who isn’t all that thrilled about being in purple. Much as I loved watching Rice in ’09 when he was lighting up the NFL, I have to be realistic about him. I’m not 100% convinced he’s worth the kind of money he is likely going to command.
I think there is a legitimate case to be made for simply letting Rice walk. Not committing money to Rice, along with other cuts and restructured contracts, would free up money for other things, a new safety maybe or a veteran QB. Here’s the kicker for a lot of people: With Rice gone the Vikings would have little choice but to retain Bernard Berrian, probably under a restructured contract. And now I will hold in my puke and make the case for Bernard Berrian being a better choice in 2011 than Sidney Rice.
Okay, it’s true, Bernard Berrian was dreadful the last couple of years. On the field he was ineffective, and off the field his attitude was generally defensive and sometimes downright petulant. But let’s not forget: Bernard Berrian did have one good year with the Vikings, before the arrival of Brett Favre and his smoking heater. Maybe with Favre gone Berrian will have a chance to return to the form he showed with Gus Frerotte at QB. It’s a different offensive system, one that may very well fit Berrian’s talents better than the old system (we won’t know for sure until we see).
I know it’s a long-shot that Berrian will show anything, but let’s look at it in terms of risk/reward. If you sign Rice to a long-term deal and he ends up getting hurt again or not getting back to his 2009 form, you waste a lot more money than you would if you keep Berrian for one year, even under his old contract. And even if Berrian stinks, it’s only for one year. At the end of the season you can watch him go and perhaps make a run at Larry Fitzgerald, who has expressed a desire to play with the Vikings if things don’t work out between him and Arizona.
Fitzgerald is the wild card in all this. No, there is no guarantee that you would be able to sign him. But if you pay Rice big money, coupled with the big money you’ll have to give Peterson and eventually Harvin, you are basically taking yourself out of the running for Fitz entirely. In essence, letting Rice walk to take a shot at Fitzgerald would constitute a double roll of the dice. You’re betting that you can get through 2011 in one piece with Berrian, and that Arizona will let Fitz hit the market.
It sounds like a major gamble, and it is, but think of what you would gain if it pays off. And keep in mind that for all we know the Rice situation is already out of the Vikings’ hands. For all we know, Rice has no intention of taking any deal the Vikings offer him during the window or after. At least one national columnist, Peter King, has said he would be “surprised” if Rice returns to the Vikings.
I realize lots of Viking fans will be distraught if Rice leaves, but maybe they shouldn’t be. The silver lining of losing Rice could be that you end up gaining Larry Fitzgerald. How’s that for optimism?