Alfie Crow, one of the head guys from SBNation's Jacksonville Jaguars' site Big Cat Country, has posted a rather interesting article over at their site about a topic that I really hadn't given much thought to. . .and, with what he's said, that probably needs to change.
For as long as there has been free agency in the National Football League, in any of its forms, the free agency period has taken place prior to the NFL Draft. Many fans. . .and, one would assume, many front office people. . .have become quite accustomed to this approach. However, the NFL's labor deal with the player's union is set to expire on 3 March, and there's no sign that the two sides are going to come to any sort of an agreement before then. I suppose that it's possible, but at this point it's correct to assume that the odds are against it.
That's also the date that NFL Free Agency is scheduled to begin. However, if there is no labor deal on 3 March, then there can't be any free agency on 3 March, either. Without a labor deal, there is no such thing as free agency, and nobody will know for sure how many years of service will be required before unrestricted free agency can be attained, or any of those sorts of things. With that being the case, it's highly possible that the free agency period for 2011 will take place after the NFL Draft for the first time ever. This could signal a drastic shift in approach for the Vikings. . .and for many other teams as well, obviously, but we care about the Vikings here. . .and in an off-season that is vital for the future of the franchise, could throw everything into chaos.
(Chaos? The Vikings? Get the heck out of here. I know, right?)
The prevailing wisdom is that teams patch holes in free agency, and build long-term through the draft. However, in the case of the Vikings, if the draft comes first and is followed by free agency, they could have two sizable holes before the season starts and not enough materials to patch the hole.
I'm speaking, of course, of linebacker Chad Greenway and wide receiver Sidney Rice.
Now, as things stand right now, linebacker and wide receiver are a couple of spots that the Vikings don't need to place at the top of the priority list. However, both of them are, technically, no longer under contract to the Vikings as on 3 March. So, if you're the Vikings' front office, how do you approach this?
Do you take a wide receiver or a linebacker early in anticipation of losing either Rice or Greenway? If you do, do you worry about the signal it sends to those players? If you do and they come back, have you passed on players that could contribute right away in favor of someone that is going to play a more minor role?
Do you focus on the positions that are of greater need with the way the roster is comprised right now (quarterback, offensive line, secondary) and hope that you can bring Rice and Greenway back? If you don't address linebacker and wide receiver and either (or both) of those players leave, now you're short-handed at a couple of positions.
All of this uncertainty leads me to believe that when the draft does roll around, the Vikings will more than likely be looking to use their first-round draft pick at the one position where they're truly lacking stability right now, and the one position in the NFL that you can never have too much stability at. . .that being the quarterback position. And even though I've gone on record as stating that I'm not terribly enamored with any of the quarterbacks that will be battling for positions at the top of the first round, there's one particular prospect that I'm becoming more and more okay with should the Vikings desire to take him at #12 overall.
In any case, how do you think that this potentially affects the Minnesota Vikings? Does it change your personal thoughts about how the Vikings should approach this off-season? Can they operate under the assumption that Greenway, Rice, and other key free agents will be coming back in 2011 (provided that there's football in 2011)? Discuss it all below.