Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taylor Made

In a previous post, I discussed the Vikings' options for retaining running back Chester Taylor. Since then, two once-marquee running backs, who the Vikings, as "final four" participants, are eligible to sign without first losing a free agent of their own, have entered the ranks of free agency. Despite the interest piqued among some fans, neither Brian Westbrook nor LaDanian Tomlinson offers the Vikings anywhere near what they already have in Chester Taylor--nor do any other running backs likely to be on the market.

At this point, it appears that Taylor is intent either on forcing the Vikings' hand or gauging his value on the free-agent market. That ploy could, however, backfire on him.

Should Taylor enter free-agency, he likely will receive a generous bump in salary from his 2009 pay. That bump, however, equally as likely would pale in comparison to what he would receive were he to negotiate a salary with the Vikings prior to free agency. For, at the moment, Taylor has the Vikings over a barrel. They need him more than he needs them and the market is uncertain. Once the market is determined, the Vikings will know where they stand and what they need to pay Taylor to remain where they wish to be. If that means paying Taylor too much, the Vikings might well opt to draft one of the many strong running backs in this year's draft and part ways with Taylor.

Much local discussion has focused on the cost of signing Taylor, but that discussion mostly has lacked any meaningful statement of the particulars, favoring, instead, repetition of the incorrect line that the Vikings already are committed to a high team salary in 2010. In short, quite the opposite is true and the Vikings are in a very good position in terms of team salary to pay Taylor the $6.6 million or so that will be required should they opt to franchise him.

There is a better solution for both the Vikings and Taylor, however, and that is to sit down at the table and negotiate an extension before free agency opens. That move would ensure Taylor a healthy raise to somewhere below franchise level but somewhere above market and a shot at a Super Bowl with far more limited damage to his body than he almost certainly would endure as the starting back for another team in 2010. It also would ensure the Vikings their nookie blanket at running back at terms more generous than franchise level.

The key for both parties is to iron out a deal before free-agency begins and the horses are already out of the stable.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shirley You Chester

With an uncapped season and the special free-agency rules that apply thereto merely days away, the Minnesota Vikings have limited time to resolve one of the team's most pressing off-season decisions--what to do with Chester Taylor. Though Taylor's numbers were not spectacular in 2009, his numbers belie his true value to the team, both as a go-to player on critical downs and as a safety valve for those increasingly less rare moments when Adrian Peterson seems to lose his football senses.

The Vikings have five options for dealing with Taylor. The most perilous is to let Taylor test the free-agent market. With uncapped free-agency rules greatly restricting the pool of unrestricted free agents, Taylor undoubtedly would draw considerable attention and large offers from numerous teams. That realization, along with the ability to start for a team next season, might already mean that the Vikings have no shot at re-signing Taylor, should Taylor reach the free-agent market.

That does not mean that the Vikings are without recourse for retaining Taylor, however. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Among the Vikings' alternatives to bidding for Taylor in a free-agency market desperate for bona fide starting running backs are slapping either the franchise or the transition tag on Taylor. Either could ensure that, regardless of Taylor's wishes, he would remain in Minnesota for another season. Both, however, would come at a cost.

Designating Taylor the team's franchise player would require the Vikings to pay Taylor at least the average of the top five running backs in the NFL. That's an absurd value to attach to a player that isn't even the starting running back for his own team and it is, therefore, an option that the Vikings are unlikely to pursue.

Should the Vikings instead apply the transition tag to Taylor, the team would be required, at a minimum, to pay Taylor the average of the top ten running backs in the league or 120% of Taylor's 2009 salary. While paying Taylor 120% of his 2009 salary would be well within the Vikings' means, that's merely what the Vikings must offer Taylor, not what Taylor must accept.

As a transition player, Taylor would retain the right to test free agency, even should the Vikings make an initial offer consistent with their obligations under transition tag rules. The Vikings would merely have the right of first refusal for seven days following any free-agent offer sheet that Taylor signed.

What that means for the Vikings is that applying the transition tag to Taylor is far more palatable than letting Taylor enter free agency without the tag. It also means, however, that, if the Vikings wish to retain Taylor, they most likely will be paying market for him.

The only other option for the Vikings is to sign Taylor to a deal before free agency begins. That, of course, should have been done last Fall or earlier. With free agency now so near, there is zero incentive for Taylor not to check his value on the market.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Manning's Pick, Saints' Victory Bolster Likelihood of Favre's Return

The hue and cry went out far and wide from the loudest of the loudest voices in the sports talk business following the Vikings' loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game. "Favre's decision cost the Vikings the game," they cried. "No way Manning does the same, not when its for all the marbles."

More cliches and loud pontificating ensued. Then the Super Bowl was played.

Not only did the Saints--a team the Vikings ran up and down the field against--show, they beat the favored Indianapolis Colts by two touchdowns. And they did so on the strength of a late-game pick of a cross-body pass by Peyton Manning. It was not as far back across the body as had been Brett Favre's two weeks ago, but it was back across the body, to a blind spot, and it was picked.

For Manning and the Colts, the late fourth-quarter pick was far more immediately damaging than was Favre's intercepted pass against the Saints. Favre's pick merely sent the game to overtime. Manning's pick resulted in a Saints' defensive touchdown and sealed the game in regulation.

While Colts' fans, with prior Super Bowl victory in hand, will gain little sympathy around the NFL for their team's late-game miscues and defeat, Vikings' fans likely will receive additional sympathy along with an unexpected boost to next year's fortunes.

On Sunday, the Saints demonstrated that they were the better team. They also added fuel to the notion among Vikings' fans that the Vikings were the best team in the NFL this past season. That, alone, would provide Favre with motivation to return next season.

How the Saints beat the Colts should also embolden Favre. While, two weeks ago, Favre likely had doubts about his decision-making with a championship in reach, he now has re-affirmation of the fact that bad picks happen to the best of quarterbacks at the worst of times. In light of Manning's pick, Favre can take solace in the fact that momentary indiscretion, not age or fading ability, was responsible for that pick against the Saints.

Buoyed by Manning's error to view his own similar error in a different light, and encouraged by the return of the core of this year's offense, Favre might well decide to return to Minnesota in 2010 and take a run at a field that probably is not going to change all that much except at the margins.

In an off-season already filled with uncertainty about the return to play of E.J. Henderson and Cedric Griffin and Chester Taylor's status as a member of the team, the Colts' loss via a Manning interception thus offers one unexpected ray of hope for the Vikings and their fans in 2010.