There was plenty of speculation in August when, shortly after Brett Favre was bagged and tagged by three teammates and airlifted back to Minnesota, Rice announced that he would need hip surgery that would sideline him three months.
Almost immediately, fingers pointed the way of superagent Drew Rosenhaus, who has Rice among his client roster. There was the belief that the Vikings were dragging their feet on doing a contract extension following Rice's breakout 2009 season. It was Rosenhaus who first drew attention to Rice's hip injury in June of 2010, something that apparently (at least publicly) came as news to then-head coach Brad Childress. Childress claimed that, when the season ended, Rice didn't show the signs of a hip injury and hinted that the decision to hold off informing the team may have been a contract ploy. Had he been under a long-term contract, he would have had the surgery earlier and been ready for the 2010 season. The team didn't come forward with a contract and, as it turned out, Rice didn't come forward with the severity of his hip injury up until the time he shut it down and had surgery.
With a less-than-100 percent Favre missing his top weapon, he struggled early and, by the time Rice returned, the 2010 season was already in the tank and the Dr. Randy and Mr. Moss saga had come to an abrupt end – costing the Vikings a third-round draft pick and Childress his membership in the head coaching fraternity.
Still, new head coach Leslie Frazier and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman both went on record as saying that signing Rice to the long-term contract he wants was an organizational priority. They backed up that wish with a contract offer, but, according to an ESPN report, Rosenhaus advised Rice to decline the offer and enter free agency when the current CBA expires Thursday night.
The problem with the advice may be the same as the previous advice of postponing surgery and hoping his hip would heal – it might backfire.
Prior to 2010, players with four years of NFL experience could become unrestricted free agents. When the owners announced they were opting out of the current CBA, the terms of an uncapped year kicked in – raising the years of service needed to become a UFA, going from four to six.
Although it is expected that the free-agent bargaining chip will be dropped back to four years when a new CBA kicks in, it could become a compromise point for another issue the players union is looking for. If the new CBA would place unrestricted free agency up to five years (again, this isn't expected to happen, but strange things happen during negotiation processes), Rice would be a restricted free agent and the Vikings could tender him with an offer requiring lower compensation than a long-term contract would and the ability to match any offer.
With unknowns on the NFL horizon, being able to pocket a significant signing bonus would have short-term security for Rice and his family. By opting out, he is rolling the dice on getting either a bigger offer from the Vikings or a potential blockbuster offer on the open market.
It's a risk, but once again, one that Rice (and Rosenhaus) seem willing to make.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.