It seems improbable that the NFL would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs made possible by revenue sharing and salary caps and floors, but nothing is impossible. And, given that the league is already well on the way to an uncapped 2010 season, the nearly impossible is that much closer to becoming a reality.
All of which raises the question of what a league without current spending and revenue-sharing parameters might mean for the Minnesota Vikings. In the long run, Minnesota likely would face a similar scenario to that faced by all but a handful of MLB teams, but, presumably, with far more significant television revenue streams. That essentially would mean that a premium would remain on making intelligent personnel decisions, but, also, that teams like Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, and other teams that have shown a desire to spend sparingly even under the current floor-ceiling cap structure would fall further down the rung of financially competitive teams.
In the short term, the consequences could be far more damaging to the Vikings, however.
Minnesota leaves the 2009-2010 post-season on a sour note not only for failing to take advantage of the best opportunity the team has had to win the Super Bowl since facing Kansas City in Super Bowl IV, but also because of what the short-term potentially offers the Vikings.
Of the Vikings' 22 current starters on offense and defense, the Vikings have serious concerns about no less than 12, and that fails to take into account the very possible departure of Chester Taylor, a player that the Vikings inexplicably have failed to extend at this point.
On defense, the Viking have injury concerns over EJ Henderson, Antoine Winfield, Pat Williams, and Cedric Griffin, and have decisions to make regarding Williams, Griffin, Ray Edwards, Ben Leber, and the teams' woefully under-performing safeties. Under the best of circumstances, Henderson and Griffin appear destined to begin the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. That means that Minnesota will need to identify at least one new capable starting cornerback and a middle linebacker capable of tackling and covering opposing tight ends; it is not clear that either of these entities currently are on the Vikings' roster.
As many questions as the Vikings have on defense, they almost certainly have more pressing concerns on offense. Percy Harvin's continuing migraines notwithstanding, Minnesota still does not know who will be at quarterback next season. Though Brett Favre seems a better than even-odds bet to return next season, should he decide to call it a career, the Vikings would be left with either Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson as starting quarterback options. And if Rosenfels truly is no better than the third-string quarterback that he was designated for every game this season, seeing exactly zero snaps in his first season with Minnesota, Vikings' fans clearly can pack it in for next year, barring the signing of a substantial upgrade over Jackson.
Even without their quarterback concerns, the Vikings have grave concerns on offense. Adrian Peterson not only has shown a propensity to fumble, but seems insufficiently concerned about the problem, noting recently that he'll "correct it for next season." If the solution were that simple, presumably Peterson would have corrected the problem prior to the NFC Championship game. The problem, unfortunately, appears more deeply rooted.
The Peterson problem would be compounded by the departure of the under-appreciated Taylor. Barring the acquisition of a pass-blocking, pass-catching, elusive running back, Taylor's departure would force the Vikings to use Peterson almost exclusively. Two years ago, those words would have elicited glee among Vikings' fans. Now, they, instead, conjure deep concern.
Assuming Favre returns and the Vikings figure out their running back issues, there is still the massive problem that is the offensive line. Steve Hutchinson played the better portion of the 2009 season with an injured shoulder, John Sullivan remains a work-in-progress, Bryant McKinnie is holding on for dear life and the Vikings seem unable to rely on anyone on the right side of the line, even with rookie Phil Loadholt showing promise, notwithstanding his constant need for tight end cover.
Add these concerns to the fact that the Vikings currently are without a legitimate deep-ball threat--a threat that they thought they had in the mysteriously disappearing Bernard Berrian--and Minnesota has several significant offensive questions to address in the off-season.
In an off-season with the heretofore standard cap rules in place, the Vikings would be in relatively good shape, free to fill holes with the mounds of cap cash that they have saved by spending up-front dollars on players. But if 2010 is uncapped, the Vikings face an uphill battle that most fans knew nothing about entering the 2009 season.
Under the current 2010 uncapped season rules, the final four playoff teams face free-agency restrictions that the remaining teams in the league do not. The most significant restriction is that each of the eight teams is prohibited from signing an unrestricted free agent without first losing an unrestricted free agent of their own.
Of the team's 2010 unrestricted free agents, the Vikings presumably would prefer to keep all but, perhaps, Naufahu Tahi and Artis Hicks. And even these two, as Childress signees, might be safe, no matter the cost to Minnesota's free-agent fortunes.
But even with departures of their own free agents, the Vikings could be left holding the bag. For without the actual loss of a free agent--something determined only by the signing of that free agent--the Vikings cannot make a free-agent acquisition. That means that the only way the Vikings are likely to make a meaningful free-agent signing in the uncapped season is by having someone sign Taylor and sign Taylor early. And that merely resolves one position concern by creating another.
Clearly, this year was a golden opportunity missed by the Vikings. A strong team, facing a historically soft schedule and two mediocre playoff opponents simply was unable to get out of its own way, however. Barring a new CBA for 2010, and the certain departure of key players from this year's team, either in 2010 or 2011, it is very possible that Vikings' fans will be looking ahead not to 2010, but 2020, or beyond.
Up Next: In A Perfect World Filled With Vikings' Imperfections. Plus, what the CBA mess means for the Vikings' stadium fortunes.