So, after I put together all of the stuff about who the Vikings should be using the franchise tag on and all that other good stuff, it turns out that the Vikings may employ something that most Viking fans had pushed out of their minds, and for good reason. . .the "transition player" tag. From what Jeremy Fowler at the Pioneer Press is reporting, the Vikings may have already made the decision to place the franchise tag on Chad Greenway, while placing the transition tag on Sidney Rice. (He seems to have reached the same conclusion that I have in that we can pretty much start referring to Ray Edwards as "former Viking Ray Edwards.")
There are a couple of significant differences between the "franchise" tag and the "transition" tag. A franchise player is guaranteed a yearly salary based on the average of the top five players at his position, while a transition player is guaranteed a yearly salary based on the average of the top ten players at his position. The big one, however, comes when one talks about compensation. . .or the lack thereof.
In the case of both the franchise and the transition player, the team potentially losing the player has the right to match the potential new team's offer sheet for that player. The difference being that if a team signs another team's franchise player to an offer sheet and the original team chooses not to match, the team losing that player is entitled to compensation in the form of two first-round draft choices (though deals are generally negotiated after the signing of that offer sheer for a lower level of compensation). The transition tag, however, affords no such luxury. . .if another team attempts to sign your team's transition player away and they choose not to match their offer, they not only lose the player, but your team gets nothing in return.
As a result, the transition tag makes things much harder on the team potentially losing one of their players. Let's hit the Wayback Machine and go back to the spring of 2006 for an example, shall we?
In 2006, the Seattle Seahawks had named guard Steve Hutchinson as their transition player, meaning that he was free to negotiate with any team for a new contract, and he negotiated a deal with the Vikings. Minnesota signed him to an offer sheet, and included a clause in the contract that said the entirety of the contract. . .which was a seven-year, $49 million deal. . .would become fully guaranteed if Hutchinson wasn't the highest-paid offensive lineman on the team. The contract would have made Hutchinson the highest-paid guard in history.
He would not have been the highest paid lineman in Seattle had the Seahawks matched the deal. . .future Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones would have been. So, as a result of this "poison pill," as soon as the ink dried on Hutchinson's new contract with Seattle, the Seahawks would have been on the hook for the entire $49 million contract. Obviously, the Seahawks chose not to match the offer, and Hutchinson wound up a Viking. (According to ESPN's John Clayton, all that the Vikings needed to guarantee was Hutchinson's $10 million signing bonus and $6 million in roster bonus and base salary.)
Seattle struck back. . .sort of. . .a week later. The Vikings had tendered restricted free agent Nate Burleson at the lowest level, meaning that any team that signed him to an offer sheet would have to compensate the Vikings with a selection in the round of the draft Burleson was selected in, that being a third rounder. Well, the Seahawks put together a seven-year, $49 million contract. . .yes, for Nate Burleson. . .and included the provision that the contract would become fully guaranteed if Burleson played five or more games in the state of Minnesota. Well, obviously, the Vikings weren't going to match that offer, so Burleson wound up in Seattle, and the Seahawks wound up giving the Vikings a third-round pick for the privilege of "getting back at them."
For the record, I would still trade Nate Burleson for Steve Hutchinson and a third-round pick every time.
So, if the Vikings are going to use the transition tag on Sidney Rice or anybody else, they have to be very, very careful about how they go about it. Hopefully things will work out for Rice and for the team, and he and Greenway will be back in Minnesota in 2011. Or, you know, whenever we have football next.