Vikings soak in transition rules, including ban on FAs early in camp
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Rick Spielman stood in front of reporters with a list of the NFL's transition rules early Monday evening, highlighted lines visible on every page.
The Minnesota Vikings' vice president of player personnel admitted he had a lot of memorization to do before negotiations with free agents begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday. But of all the league's temporary post-lockout mandates, one stood out as the strangest:
Unrestricted free agents can sign with teams beginning at 5 p.m. Friday -- and can't practice until nearly six days later, after the 2011 league year begins at 3:01 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 4.
"Technically, you can have a UFA under contract," Spielman said, "but you cannot put him on the field until after the league year begins."
In some ways, the timeline issued by the NFL on Monday benefits teams such as the Vikings, who have 19 unsigned veterans, 10 unsigned draft picks and about $4.8 million against the salary cap that must be trimmed to become in compliance before the league year begins.
Negotiating extensions with the likes of halfback Adrian Peterson and linebacker Chad Greenway could free up cap space. So could renegotiating a bloated contract with a player such as guard Steve Hutchinson or cutting the likes of receiver Bernard Berrian or safety Madieu Williams.
"The guys that are under contract, we're going to have a chance to talk with them, explain to them what their roles are going to be and how we want to use them going forward," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We're in a better position than most people realize. We have some things in place that would allow us to keep the guys that we think are going to help us to win a championship, and I think we're in a good position to do the right things by our roster."
But a calendar released by the NFL on Monday, shortly after the 4½-month-old lockout ended, contained specific language prohibiting veteran players who sign contracts with their old teams or new ones from suiting up until Aug. 4 -- a date that hinges on the expected recertification of the former players' union.
"Veteran players who sign Player Contracts on or after (5 p.m. Friday) shall be required to report to, and remain with, their Clubs," the calendar read, "except that, prior to the start of the 2011 League Year on August 4, such players may not participate in on-field activities, workouts, weight training or other physical activities, but shall be required to attend meetings, classroom instruction and any other non-physical activities scheduled during the Club's preseason training camp."
The ban does not extend to drafted or undrafted rookies regardless of when they sign their contracts -- the window for that opens at 9 a.m. Tuesday as well -- but it's possible it will impact teams' thinking on some second- and third-tier veterans. Players who are traded, on the other hand, presumably could begin practicing immediately because their contracts predate the new agreement.
Spielman declined to discuss specifics of the team's plans on Monday but acknowledged Tuesday is "going to be like a telethon" with so many negotiations occurring simultaneously on several fronts with him and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski directing traffic.
"We know where we're at from a cap standpoint, and we know where we have to be at from a cap standpoint," Spielman said. "We've got a game plan in place on how we need to get there, so we'll start executing a lot of that. We have to be in (cap) compliance by Aug. 4. But you also know you have to do some things in free agency or sign your own free agents, so there's a lot of different ways we can look at things."
The Vikings report to camp on Sunday and have their first practice scheduled for next Monday, Aug. 1, meaning they could go through as many as four full practices and four walkthroughs before several key players can join them on the field.
Brzezinski and Spielman led coaches and members of the personnel department through a staff meeting shortly before the labor agreement was ratified early Monday afternoon to go through the scenarios they've discussed since February one last time.
"With so many variables and so many moving parts along the way, it was so important for us to be able to cover our bases in every area, much like you do when you're preparing for the draft," Frazier said. "That's what this process is like. Now the fact you're going to have college free agency, NFL free agency, trying to sign our draft picks, along with trying to get everybody to camp on time -- there are a lot of different things going on.
"I think we've done a great job of preparing for this moment. I don't think it's anything that makes us feel overwhelmed at all. I think we're prepared for having success."
A look at the Vikings' free agents
Unrestricted: WR Hank Baskett, OL Ryan Cook, DE Ray Edwards, DT Fred Evans, QB Brett Favre, S Eric Frampton, QB Tarvaris Jackson, LB Ben Leber, WR Greg Lewis, K Ryan Longwell, QB Patrick Ramsey, WR Sidney Rice, CB Lito Sheppard, FB Naufahu Tahi, CB Frank Walker, NT Pat Williams.
Exclusive rights (not tendered): HB Albert Young.