Kleinsasser Gets the "Big Tag"

Tight end Jim Kleinsasser has proved his importance to Mike Tice. His franchise tag is indication of that.

When word was first given to VU, it sounded like it had to be a mistake -- the franchise tag? At a time when QB Daunte Culpepper has just one year left on his deal, even messing with potentially burning your franchise tag didn't seem like an option -- much less on a tight end.

But that is how convinced Tice is he can get Kleinsasser signed and how convinced he is that he needs him on his team.

Had Tice hit him with a transition tag, he would have been guaranteed a one-year deal worth the average of the top 10 TEs in the league -- about $2.35 million. If any team wanted to sign him, he would have to give the Vikes a chance to match. With the franchise tag, if any team wants Kleinsasser bad enough, they will have to give up two first-round draft picks to do it.

With the franchise tag, Kleinsasser is guaranteed the average salary of the top five tight ends -- about $3.05 million. Still, the Vikings expect to have his contract wrapped up by the start of free agency a week from today.

FRIDAY NOTES
* Despite some reports otherwise, the Vikings have never technically used their franchise tag. They tried to slap it on Robert Smith in 1998, but an arbitrator threw it out due to a technicality in Smith's contract. Obviously, the Vikes signed Smith anyway and still have yet to enforce the franchise tag.
* Former Vikings center Jeff Christy expects to be released by the Bucs as early as today. While Tampa wants to keep the former Pro Bowler, they want it at a much lower price than his current $3.5 million cap hit.
* Tice still considers Mark Rypien a backup QB option, but, with Neil O'Donnell -- released Thursday by the Titans -- on the market, he could be considered if Tennessee doesn't make a quick move to resign O'Donnell at a lower price.

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