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Updated: July 25th, 2012 10:10am
Offset language issue not so simple as Vikings try to sign Matt Kalil

Offset language issue not so simple as Vikings try to sign Matt Kalil

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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It all goes back to Emmanuel Arceneaux.

With training camp a day away and negotiations seemingly stuck between the Minnesota Vikings and top draft pick Matt Kalil, the so-called "offset" language in what will be a four-year, $20 million contract with a fifth-year option continues to be the most pressing of several issues the sides must work out.

The Vikings, who include offset language in all of their deals as an organizational philosophy, don't want to set a precedent that could come up the next time they have to negotiate a veteran contract, too.

Kalil's agents, Tom Condon and Ben Dogra of CAA, don't want to set a precedent of taking a seemingly lesser deal when several players drafted around the athletic left tackle -- including CAA clients Robert Griffin III with Washington at No. 2 and Trent Richardson with Cleveland at No. 3 -- already have signed deals that don't include offset language, AKA an insurance policy that offsets guarantees in a player's contract if he gets cut and signs elsewhere.

Part of the argument made by Kalil's agents centers around the fact the Vikings did deals last year with their picks in Rounds 4 through 7 that didn't include full offset language. If those players didn't have to accept it, the agents say, why should Kalil?

The answer, however, is more complicated -- all going back to the Vikings' decision to sign Arcneaux, the former Canadian Football League receiver, in January 2011 to a contract that included a $75,000 signing bonus.

Six months later, the NFL and the players association finalized a collective-bargaining agreement that, among many other changes, put a $75,000 cap on each team's undrafted free agent signings -- and Arceneaux's deal counted against that limit.

As a result, Vikings vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski had to design a creative strategy that would allow the team to sign other undrafted free agents without violating the $75,000 limit or their rookie cap.

His solution was to give reporting bonuses to undrafted free agents and shift small portions of the signing bonuses due to the Vikings' mid- to late-round draft picks into roster bonuses in the second and third years of their deals.

That's why Christian Ballard ($60,000), Brandon Burton ($30,000 total), DeMarcus Love ($20,000), Mistral Raymond ($20,000), Brandon Fusco ($20,000) and D'Aundre Reed ($10,000) each have small roster bonuses due in 2012 and '13. (Stephen Burton, who since has been cut twice and re-signed, and Ross Homan, who isn't with the team, also had such clauses.)

To get their agents on board, the Vikings had to exempt those roster bonuses from offset language -- which only makes sense, since that money otherwise would have been part of their respective signing bonuses.

The Vikings don't see that as precedent so much as an anomaly. But the CBA signed last summer also slotted rookie contracts, leaving agents little ground to fight over.

This year, it's offset language, and for the first time, there appears to be a real chance this issue may not be resolved before players report to training camp on Thursday afternoon.

In the end, one side will either have to cave on the offset issue or else work out a compromise in which Kalil receives other sorts of assurances in exchange -- a logical step, since both sides no doubt believe he'll be starting at left tackle for the Vikings through 2015 and beyond.

The Vikings are believed to be close to a deal with third-round draft pick Josh Robinson, the only other unsigned member of their 2012 draft class.

Players report to Minnesota State University, Mankato, on Thursday. The first practice is at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

If Kalil isn't there, Pat Brown or DeMarcus Love probably would work with the first string at left tackle.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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