Franchise deadline looms

Drew Brees

The Vikings aren't in the position to reach an impasse with a star player, but teams like the Saints and Bears have until Monday to sign stars like Drew Brees and Matt Forte to long-term deals or things could potentially get messy.

With much of the team focus on getting the remaining unsigned first-round draft picks signed, a bigger problem for some NFL teams will come with Monday's deadline to sign franchise players to long-term contracts.

Under league rules, those players who were slapped with the franchise tag back in March had until July 16 to reach a long-term contract. If a long-term deal can't be reached by Monday, the window closes for teams and players to get long-term contracts done and the franchise tag will take effect.

As a result, players like Chicago's Matt Forte, New Orleans' Drew Brees, New England's Wes Welker and Dallas' Anthony Spencer could potentially hold out of the start of the 2012 season. Brees has said he won't do that and some of them believe they will sign a long-term deal before the deadline.

While the franchise tag is an important part of the collective bargaining process, it gets to the heart of the difference that the owners and the players union have when it comes to free agency. Teams have the power to prevent a player from hitting the open market. It comes at a price, but for players like Forte, a running back who has a short shelf life as an elite player at his position, being given the franchise tag is viewed as a slap in the face.

Thanks to shrewd contract negotiating by the Vikings front office, they haven't been forced to alienate a star player by giving him the franchise designation – a one-year deal that guarantees a player the average of the top five salaries at his position. Often times, teams get the long-term deal done that makes the franchise tag worthwhile, but more times that not, the franchise tag results in drawing a line in the sand with star players.

As is often the case in contract negotiations with top rookies, expect to see some activity on the franchise front this week as the clock ticks down to the franchise deadline. Both Forte and Brees have earned their contracts and can be considered the franchise players for their respective teams.

For those who don't sign their franchise tenders by the end of the week or get the long-term deals they're seeking, things could ugly in the negotiating process and holdouts could emerge from the lack of activity.

Is the franchise tag fair? That depends on who you ask. It gives the owners a chance to keep an elite player rather than simply allowing him to leave via free agency without negotiating in good faith. It gives the player a one-year bump in salary that pays him elite money and keeps the potential open that he can hit the free-agent market the following year or get another significant bump in salary. However, if he gets injured during the franchise tag year, teams can walk away from him – much like the Chargers did with Brees when he suffered a major shoulder injury the year he was franchised by San Diego and the only team that made him a long-term offer in free agency was the Saints.

Between now and Monday expect to see negotiations take place and teams kiss and make up with those players that were slapped with the franchise tag by signing them to long-term contracts. In almost every instance, they have earned their big-time deals. However, for those who aren't signed by Monday, the animosity will only grow as the season begins.

Fortunately for the Vikings, they haven't had that problem for years and likely won't have it be an issue any time soon.


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.


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