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.