Vikings avoid holdouts for more money

Published 12:45 pm Saturday, May 9, 2015

EDEN PRAIRIE — As the days ticked down toward the first rookie minicamp for the Minnesota Vikings, executive vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski worked feverishly with one goal in mind.

The Vikings wanted to make sure that each rookie — yes, all 10 of the players they drafted just last week — had their contracts signed before they set foot on the practice field Friday for the first time. It wasn’t easy, and it turned the front offices at the team’s Winter Park headquarters into a Grand Central Terminal of sorts as players filed in to sign their deals. But thanks to changes made in the way rookie contracts are finalized by the collective bargaining agreement in 2011, and the determination of Brzezinski, Vikings GM Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer to get the deals finished, the team was able to pull it off.

“I don’t think people realize how much is going on after the draft,” Spielman said. “Trying to get the contracts done, physicals for players who had not had them. There was a lot of organized chaos going on after the draft to get to this point. But to get all that business done, I told Rob now he can start golfing. He did an outstanding job.”

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Rookie holdouts used to be an onerous way of life in the NFL, with first-round draft picks waiting and waiting while players drafted right around them signed to set the market. Negotiations would often stretch into training camp and beyond, including in 2002 when Vikings tackle Bryant McKinnie held out for the first 98 days of the season. That same season, Kansas City didn’t sign Ryan Sims until Aug. 28 and Arizona didn’t lock in Wendell Bryant until Sept. 12.

But the new CBA forged through intense negotiations in 2011 set up a rookie pay scale similar to the system used in the NBA. Each pick is slotted within a certain dollar range, eliminating a lot of the back-and-forth between teams and agents. Last year, all 256 picks in the draft were signed by June 17, about six weeks before any team opened training camp.

“I think more and more teams are getting them done quicker and quicker,” Spielman said. “It benefits the kid, too. They get their bonuses in hand instead of waiting until July or August. The contract isn’t going to change much. It’s pretty set in place. I’ve always admired the NBA, the way they signed their guys right away after the draft. I think it’s great that we’re able to do that now.”

Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes — the 11th overall pick — is one of five first-round picks to sign already this year, including No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston of Tampa Bay. The system is well established now, so much so that it’s almost become an afterthought for players.

“I wasn’t even thinking about that,” Waynes said. “Once I got here, I was thinking about the schedule, what I’ve got to do, when is practice. I wasn’t thinking about the whole contract situation.”

That’s just the way coaches and executives want it.

“It’s really great and really it’s a credit to Rob Brzezinski,” Zimmer said. “He did a great job negotiating all these deals in a short period of time. It allows all of us to really concentrate on the task at hand and that’s getting each one of these players better and getting this football team better.”

On top of negotiating the deals for the drafted rookies, Brzezinski also helped put together non-guaranteed contracts for about three dozen more college free agents who were brought in for the weekend to get a tryout.

The new CBA certainly has a down side for the rookies, who no longer have the gargantuan signing bonuses that went to some of the highest picks in the draft. But for a second-rounder like Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, having the peace of mind that comes with a quick and easy negotiation finished has value as well.

“With the combine and the draft process and the contract finally out of the way, now it’s just football,” Kendricks said. “And I couldn’t ask for more.”