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An Early Look at Vikings Free Agents

So, with a wrap on the 2009 season, it's time to look ahead to 2010 to see what awaits.  If you're laying money in Vegas, and you're a Vikings fan, the only bet you can lay down is $100 on 'torturous punch in the gut".  I almost feel like Clark Griswold in Vegas. 

But here at the Daily Norseman, we march on, like the French Army into Russia German Army into Stalingrad Charge of the Light Brigade hearty fans that we are.  Let's take a look at Free Agency, as in who will the Vikings free agents will be, and how an uncapped year affects who the Vikings can sign.

I'll discuss unrestricted free agents today, and restricted free agents tomorrow. 

With an uncapped year looming, the free agency rules really hamper the Vikings and the other three semi-finalists.  The final four teams

shall not be permitted to negotiate and sign any unrestricted free agent to a player contract except for players who acquired their status by being cut or were on the final four team when their contract expired. Playoff teams five thru eight get a break to sign one player with a salary of $4,925,000 or more and any number of players with a first-year salary of no more than $3,275,000 and an annual increase of no more than 30 percent in the following years.


There is a mechanism to permit the final eight teams to sign an unrestricted free agent for each one of their own unrestricted free agents who sign with another club as long as they don't spend more than what their own lost player received from his new club.   Pat Kirwan,

So basically, the Vikings can re-sign their own unrestricted free agents and guys that became an unrestricted free agent by being cut.  That’s it.  However, there is one extra ‘transition’ tag available to teams as well, allowing for two.  So theoretically, the Vikings could franchise one guy and slap the transition tag on two guys.  For the players, both tags are about as popular as Rod Blagojevich right now, and I really don’t see the need for using it based on who’s potentially leaving.  To my knowledge, the rules regarding restricted free agents haven’t changed, so the Vikings get the right to match any offer given to a restricted free agent, or they get possible draft picks depending on the amount of the qualifying offer.  There is also no salary cap, as many of you know.  But what a lot of folks don’t know is that there is no salary floor, either.  So the NFL could look a lot like Major League Baseball in terms of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.  It will be interesting to see what happens if no labor agreement is reached. 

But anyways, the Vikings are in a bind when it comes to signing marquee players because of the rules put in to try and prevent an uncapped season.  But when you look at the list of potential players available, it’s not that impressive.  So the Vikings need to look at who their unrestricted and restricted free agents are, and make a serious play to sign them.  So who are they, and what are the chances that they re-sign with the Vikings?

Unrestricted Free Agents:

Chester Taylor, RB—The best player the Vikings have about to hit the open market is Chester Taylor.  I am biased, but I love the way Taylor plays the game.  He isn’t flashy, he doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he does everything that’s asked of him, and he does it all very well.  When asked to be a premier back in 2006, he ripped off over 1,200 yards on an offensively inept team.  When asked to share time with a hotshot rookie, he did without bitching, and still got almost 900 yards rushing.  When asked to be a third down back and make a tough third down on a short swing pass or draw play, I defy you to find someone better at it than Chester Taylor in 2008-09.  He’s now north of the 30 year old line of doom, but he can still play at a high level, and I am sure he will draw interest from a few teams.  The trend in the NFL has been not to give big contracts to older RB’s, so I don’t know that there will be a lot of interest in Taylor.  I think the Vikings can definitely afford him, unless someone just backs up the money truck with a ton of money, which I don’t see happening.  But I can also see Taylor taking an equivalent amount of money to go elsewhere if given the opportunity to be a #1 back.  And if he does, I will tip my cap and wish him well, with no animus on my part.  Chances of Taylor returning:  50%.  

Artis Hicks, OL—Artis Hicks is the offensive line version of Chester Taylor.  Didn’t really blow you away when he started, but performed solidly, for the most part, and has been a valuable backup for the Vikings.  The main difference between Hicks and Taylor is position.  Hicks could be a serviceable starter for several teams, but age might be a concern.  Like Taylor, I think if Hicks gets a competitive offer to start somewhere, he’ll take it.  Chances of Hicks returning:  50%

Benny Sapp, CB—It’s well known (well, at least by the three of you that used to read my now-defunct blog) that I wasn’t a Benny Sapp fan, based on one nearly infamous incident.  That said, you can argue that re-signing Benny Sapp is priority #1 in the off-season.  Antoine Winfield might have a lingering foot issue, Cedric Griffin blew out his knee in the NFC Championship and won’t be available for the beginning of the season, which means your starting CB’s, if Sapp isn’t re-signed, could be Asher Allen and Karl Paymah.  Or Hussein Abdullah.  Or a bag of ass.  Sapp's value became inversely proportional the second Griff got hurt.  And truth be told, Sapp wasn't bad in 2009.  His coverage skills were okay as a nickel/emergency starter guy, and he didn't make any monumentally dumb penalties.  Getting Sapp back into the fold, and I think the Vikings will target him as such.  Chance of Sapp returning:  75%

Jimmy Kennedy, DT--Jimmy Kennedy was a solid defensive contributor for the Vikings in 2009, registering a career high in sacks and providing great depth at defensive tackle.  Kennedy was a bust as a #1 starter for the Rams, but seemed to find his stride under defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, and rotating out with Kevin and Pat Williams.  It remains to be seen whether or not other teams will look at Kennedy as a guy that's finally realizing his potential, or a guy that's doing well in a system that maximizes his talents and limits his liabilities.  With only one good year on the Vikings juxtaposed against five or six mediocre years elsewhere, I tend to think the latter, and retaining Kennedy won't be as difficult due to a small demand.  If Pat Williams does retire, the Vikings make a big push to get Kennedy in the fold.  Chance of Kennedy returning:  80%

Greg Lewis, WR--I think the Greg Lewis catch  was the moment when Vikings nation thought there was a feeling of destiny about this team.  It was for me, and it will go down as the moment fans of the purple bought in 100% to Favre (well, most of them).  It's an all-time great moment for a very storied franchise, and probably an all-time top 10 moment for just about everyone.  That said, it really was a moment in time, and Lewis was sparingly used by the Vikings.  I just don't see him coming back.  Guys like Lewis are a dime a dozen, and unless Chilly wants him back because of his Philly connections, he's gone.  Chance of Lewis coming back:  20%