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Additional Minnesota Viking Commentary

Free Agent Madness & the 5th Year Option  
Last year the Vikings, under Rick Spielman, invested in the futures of Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Fusco well before these players ever reached this years free agent madness period.  Spielman also signed Everson Griffen in the days just prior to the official start of the free agency madness period last year.  He paid them all very well and acted preemptively by providing future securities based upon performance and their future projections.  Although both Rudolph & Fusco ended up losing significant playing time in 2014 season both of these men should prove to be solid investments in this organizations future.  Spielman ACTED on these players rather than REACTED during the very stressful open-bid free agency madness period.  Now Rudolph is eager to prove that he's just had a string of bad luck and isn't as fragile as a glass jaw.  Maybe due to proximity alone, Rick Spielman has learned from the fudge-packers that you invest into your own draft picks as their skills rise like cream to the top.  We are certain that the Viking nation is applauding Spielman in his determined long-term-outlook as opposed to dumping huge dollars into overpriced free agents.  Well, he's still doing that too (Jennings) but I attribute that to not having a professional corps of receivers in place in 2014.  In other words, with Jennings in 2014, this franchise needed to REACT to a need as their plan had a flaw. 
There are now several Vikings approaching the end of their contracts in 2016.  Since Spielman is planning to put his hands into his own pockets during the initial phase of this free agency madness period, he might gain more impact by redirecting the focus of his resources by taking advantage of the upcoming media blitz upon his own core players.  What is certain is that these core players would be astounded by his audacity of his ACTIONS during this insane bidding war.  We're (the Vikings franchise) not wasting time ... instead we're taking time ... as our advantage.  Filling needs will come after the dust settles.  Both Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith have 5th year options on their contracts as they were both #1 picks.  Unfortunately these options have been set up as if they were franchise player designations where those players are to be paid at an absorbitant level if their 5th year option is exercised.  This option has been established as leverage to buy a franchise time to secure their best players to long term deals however the 5th year option is fatally flawed as its price structure does not apply to the bulk of number #1 draft picks.  The only leverage that a franchise has is that players want to quickly put their rookie deals, which are adjudicated by the leagues salary structures for all rookies, into their rear view mirrors, so that the player can gain their long term security.  For the elite level, upper level and even upper average players, they get to look forward to both guaranteed money and potentially their highest pay levels entering their 2nd contract.        

Unfortunately these 5th year options, established by being a #1 pick, have nothing to do with a players actual performance in his first 3 or 4 years, where this option has the negative effect of cleaving that organizations top draft talent away toward established elite franchises.  A good example of this is Matt Kalil in that he's been both hot and cold as a developed draft prospect.  He's certainly not an elite level player where his 5th year overpaid option should not be exercised.  Which makes 2015 as a make or break season for his pay levels for his 2nd contract where he'd be a free agent after the 2015 season.  Could you fault anyone for feeling that the Vikings, and other non-elite franchises, are made to develop their #1 draft picks for other organizations?        

To be direct, that 5th year option only makes sense for players of Teddy Bridgewater caliber as he's well on his way as being distinguished as a franchise player.  On the other hand, the 5th year option doesn't make sense for most (80% to 90%) of all #1 draft picks as the required pay scale is clearly out of line and this flawed designation requires immediate ACTION ... not the every present system of AVOIDANCE.  In theory it allows a franchise to use either it's franchise or transition tag, along with one or more 5th year options which sounds great however the numbers are not practical.  For the 2016 season the Vikings could exercise two (2) 5th year options and one franchise tag and for the 2017 season the Vikings could exercise three (3) 5th year options and one franchise tag however exactly what organization could afford to actually do it as this is beyond cost prohibitive.  It forces the franchise to both choose and cleave its own players from its franchise which hinders the franchise development of its own players.

The 5th year option should have a choice of two (2) levels from which the franchise can choose.  For example, for the projection of Anthony Barr, both he and Teddy Bridgewater may end up having their 5th year options exercised, or if the Vikings are smart, long term deals should be negotiated well before these options are exercised.  Of course, that's if everything goes as planned, but that rarely happens in the NFL as the four (4) year rookie contract is a long time.  To hammer this home, Anthony Barr has already found himself on injured reserve.  As for Matt Kalil, there should be a "Plan B" 5th year option choice.  The 80/20 rule indicates that Kalil's long term future just might end up being in the upper 20%, in overall left tackle play, however he may have had a series of bad luck under his rookie contract.  In any regard, for most #1 picks, a Plan B 5th year option should be structured understanding the potential of considerable risk, where that player may never again approach an elite level of play, but may still require a franchise to invest in his additional developmental time.  In any regard, both the media and NFL fans everywhere would absolutely love the concept of "Plan B" as it fits nicely with NFL parity.  EAT IT UP!  It certainly sounds better than the word ... "FIRST ROUND BUST".  In other words, for Kalil the tape indicates both hot and cold attributes but there is enough to take a chance on his future.  In short, that 5th year 2nd option should be paid at a different level where the salaries of the top 26 left tackles (his position) are averaged (80% rule) as an appropriate pay structure for that 5th year option.  This pay option should be treated as an offer sheet where if one of the other 32 franchises decides that they see greater long term value for that player that they can pick up that players 5th year option, however they need to give up their next available 2nd round draft pick, or its equivalent, for securing that option.  A draft pick is a fairly stiff penalty/reward but the net result is that the franchise that drafted that player has at least one additional year to allow that player the ability of securing the rewards of a lucrative 2nd contract containing future securities.  After all ... these are #1 picks ... the heart of any franchise.  What is clear is that a 5th year option shouldn't be viewed for only franchise players but as an options to develop a franchises "in-house" talent.  In short, franchises should be rewarded for the development of it's own players.      
As free agency opens each franchise places a set dice in their hands where they get one roll at a 7 or 11 at these overpriced free agents.  That's about a 15% chance at securing a winner where it's only the Patriots & Cowboys that get to select whatever player that they want.

Instead, we should all collectively be encouraging Rick Spielman to gamble his lot on his our own players, as the free agency market opens, as the huge dollars start flying around.  Rick should be leveraging this franchises resources on the fact that both Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith's want 2nd long term contracts and both want out of their under paid rookie deals ASAP.  Players want security as soon as they can get it and they must rely on their record of work.  Contract values, or better said, future values are always known in real time ... not just at the end of a rookie deal which plays into the hands of the elite franchises, where slightly over-valuing may prove to gain substantial dividends.  All leaps of faith require something in return ... players know that.  The axiom is as old as time:  "Bird in hand is better than two in the bush".  In short, Rick will be blowing this organizations resources based upon true risk.  To be successful in this endeavor you need to sum Spielman's collective results and shy away from hammering Spielman for any particular perceived failure that he will most certainly have.  In short, Hershel Walker was a monumental failure whereas some penny stocks (no offense intended as no NFL player is a penny stock), can pay huge dividends.  The bitter pill that all us knuckleheads need to swallow is that overpaying for our own talent is better than blowing it all on the one-roll-craps-table.
With this said, both Chad Greenway and Greg Jennings have to accept a renegotiated deal for less money.  Neither are anywhere near negotiating their second contract.  Can either catch on with other organizations ... Sure ... but does this make sense?  No!  Reduced pay in the right situation always trumps just about anything else.  Their are very few elite players at this stage of their contracts where they all becoming cognizant of this reality.  

Under this theme, Spielman's should be encouraged to gamble this franchises resources on low level security contracts on any of these 2nd level 2016 free agents which include Adam Theilen, Chase Ford, Jarius Wright, and Blair Walsh.  Spreading the security around at lower levels just might send a much stronger message to maintain Mike Zimmer's next man up success.  Unless any of the following is slated for a major role in 2015 Audie Cole, Rhett Ellison, Josh Robinson, Robert Blandon, Andrew Sendejo and Zack Line should be allowed to earn that long term deal.  

The Viking Ghost Writer
Date: March 5, 2015