NFC North: CBAWatch

San Diego's release of running back LaDainian Tomlinson came two days after we engaged in this bit of funny-talk speculation in the weekend mailbag.

The short of it: Chester Taylor signs with his hometown team in Detroit and Tomlinson replaces him in Minnesota as the Vikings' third-down back/insurance for Adrian Peterson. I'll stress I have no inside information to suggest it's a possibility. But from an outsider's perspective, I think it makes some sense.

The move also gives us an opportunity to make one addendum to the Final Eight discussion we had last week. As you know, the Vikings can't sign an unrestricted free agent unless one of their own unrestricted free agents signs elsewhere first. Moreover, the contracts must be comparable.

But in a very technical sense, Tomlinson won't be an unrestricted free agent. In the NFL, a player who is released from his contract is classified differently than one whose contract expires. So assuming there is an uncapped offseason in 2010, the Vikings -- or any of the other 2009 "Final Eight" teams -- could sign Tomlinson even if they don't lose an unrestricted free agent first.

Hope that makes sense.

CBAWatch: Final Eight Plan

February, 16, 2010
Last week, we began a semi-regular feature designed to feed you a digestible amount of the pending changes to the way the NFL's offseason will work when the salary cap is eliminated next month. We started off by addressing the way franchise and transition tags will work, and Tuesday our SportsNation chat gave us an opportunity to review the "Final Eight" plan.

This plan is one of several ways the NFL will restrict player movement in the uncapped scenario. The eight teams that played in the divisional round of the playoffs won't be able to sign an unrestricted free agent unless one or more of their own unrestricted free agents sign elsewhere. In addition, the four teams that played in the championship round will be further limited in that the free agent they sign must be a player with a "comparable" salary to the one they lose.

(The four teams that lost in the divisional round will have some additional flexibility, but those rules aren't relevant in the NFC North.)

All of which compelled Zack to ask this question during Tuesday's chat:
How big a role do you think that letting Chester Taylor leave would allow the Vikings to sign an outside free agent could factor in a decision to resign him or not?

I thought that was a compelling question and one that emphasized the new layers of strategies teams will be faced with this year. In this particular case, Taylor is an unrestricted free agent who is a valuable backup but might attract starter-caliber money on the open market. He is also an asset who would allow the Vikings to add a key component at another position if they want.

In essence, then, the Vikings would be faced with a trade situation. Would the free-agent player be important enough to mitigate Taylor's departure? And would the contracts match up to satisfy the "comparable" requirement?

(I've yet to see or hear a firm definition of what "comparable" means, but the best guess is that the deals must have similar first-year compensation.)

With all that said, I don't know if there is a player the Vikings might target who would compel them to let Taylor leave. It's possible they'll need his free agent "slot" to replace quarterback Brett Favre, but that's a discussion for another day.

CBAWatch: Franchise/transition players

February, 11, 2010
Many of you have asked about the likely changes to this offseason if the NFL loses its salary cap, as expected. Rather than hash through the entire litany in one post, I'd like to break down the issues as timing warrants.

We have just such an opportunity Thursday, which marks the first day teams can use their franchise tag to protect a player from leaving in free agency. Under the new system, teams will be able to tag a second player -- using the "transition tag" rules. Previously, teams could use one tag or the other but not both.

As with many of the pending rule changes, players will lose some of their freedom of movement in exchange for working in an uncapped environment. That would be the case if teams decide to place tags on two players.

After reviewing the list of likely free agents in the NFC North, I'm not sure either tag will come into play for us this offseason.

Some of you have wondered if Green Bay should place one of their tags on linebacker Aaron Kampman, who is recovering from knee surgery but might not be a perfect fit for their 3-4 scheme. A franchise tag would put the Packers in position to receive some compensation should Kampman want to sign elsewhere, and a transition tag would give them a chance to match any offer.

But tagging Kampman during his rehabilitation would be risky. The franchise value for linebackers is $9.68 million and the transition value is $8.373 million. Once tagged, a player can sign the contract at any time. The deal is fully guaranteed. I don't know if Kampman would sign before seeking other offers, but the Packers would have to be prepared for that.

Even in an uncapped year, would you commit more than $8 million to Kampman in 2010 if you were the Packers? I'm not sure I would.

Another example is Minnesota tailback Chester Taylor. The Vikings could tag him to restrict his movement, but at what cost? The franchise tag for running backs is $8.156 million and the transition tag is $7.151 million. The Vikings' best chance for retaining Taylor, if they want to, is to negotiate an extension before free agency begins.

We will monitor the situation throughout, but the changes in franchise/transition rules might not have a big impact in the NFC North.