As one rival owner said, "It's great for the league, but I've never seen anyone get down on his knees and let one player dictate to a franchise the way he has with Favre."
I give Wilf credit for aggressively pursuing a championship at all costs – he understandably feels the Vikings' Super Bowl hopes rest with Favre, and his prospects of getting a new stadium in Minneapolis (the team's Metrodome lease expires after the 2011 season) may ride on the future Hall of Famer's golden right arm as well.
Here's the situation: Favre's top target from last season, Pro Bowl receiver Sidney Rice(notes), recently underwent hip surgery and was placed on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he'll miss the first six games of the season. He could be out even longer than that, depending upon how the rehab goes.
The Vikes' next most reliable option at wideout, dynamic second-year speedster Percy Harvin(notes), continues to struggle with migraine headaches that consistently keep him out of practices and call his game-day availability into question. In a scary incident last month at Minnesota's practice facility, Harvin collapsed and was taken away by ambulance. Harvin said last Saturday night that he believes doctors have found the "main cause" of his migraines and that "everything should be behind me." Still, that's hardly a rock-solid guarantee that he'll be good to go on any given Sunday.
Meanwhile, Jackson continues a contract stalemate with the Chargers that shows no signs of ending happily. As San Diego general manager A.J. Smith indicated to me in July, the franchise has no intention of offering a long-term contract to Jackson, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his one-year tender offer with the team.
Jackson, who made the Pro Bowl in '09 after a second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season, is reportedly seeking a five-year, $50-million contract with $30 million in guaranteed money. The Chargers reduced Jackson's one-year tender offer from $3.268 million to $583,000 in mid-June, and last Friday he told the NFL Network that he'll "absolutely" sit out the 2010 campaign if he doesn't get the long-term deal he seeks.
Based on past experience, Smith is not going to budge – indeed, he prides himself upon his obstinacy in such situations. He did give Jackson's agents, Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod, permission to discuss a trade with the Seattle Seahawks late last month, but no deal came to fruition. Schwartz later told Yahoo! Sports that the Chargers have refused to allow him to speak to other interested teams and that he was told there are teams to which they don't want to trade the receiver. My guess is that the Vikings, who play in the NFC, are not one of those teams.
The reason Jackson's representatives need to be contacted by a potential trade partner is that presumably no franchise would want to risk swinging a deal for the wideout without first agreeing to the parameters of a long-term deal. Otherwise Jackson, who will already miss the first three games of the season for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy, could be a one-year rental poised to bolt after the '10 season (depending upon the rules of a new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the NFL Players Association).
An owner desperate to win in 2010 might view things from a different perspective, however, and if Wilf really wants to give his team the best shot at a first Super Bowl championship, he'll go after Jackson as aggressively and shamelessly as he did Favre in each of the past two offseasons.
What would it take? Only Smith, Jackson and his agents know for sure, but here's how I'd advise Wilf to approach the situation:
• Have vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski get on the phone with Smith and offer a conditional third-round draft pick for 2011 that hinges on the Vikings' success this season (if Minnesota reaches, say, the NFC championship game for a second consecutive year, the pick could be upgraded to a second-rounder). I'm told Smith has been asking for a second-round pick in 2011 and a third-round pick in 2012. Faced with the prospect of getting nothing for Jackson this season, and with a potential lockout looming, I suspect owner Dean Spanos might tell the GM to lower his demands and get the deal done.
• If the Chargers sign off, I'd then have Brzezinski call Schwartz and offer Jackson a one-year deal for, say, $6 million – with the promise that the Vikings wouldn't use a franchise tag to retain Jackson following the 2010 campaign. That would still open the door for the Vikes to hammer out a long-term contract for Jackson, if both sides are so inclined; if not this would essentially be a one-year rental of Jackson's services to protect Wilf's investment in Favre.
• I'd do this right now. That's because, on Aug. 20, the Chargers placed Jackson on something called the roster-exempt list, subjecting him to an immediate three-game suspension when he reports. However, if Jackson signs by Sept. 4, he can serve that suspension concurrently with the league-mandated three-game suspension. If he signs any later than Sept. 4, he'll have to serve the suspensions consecutively and miss six games – don't ask me why this is so; who knows? – though the NFLPA might challenge that technicality. But the bottom line is that for this assuredly to be worth the Vikings' while, they'll need Jackson signed, sealed and delivered by Saturday.
I'm not positive Wilf can pull this off, but I'd sure like to see him try (and not just because I'll soon be unveiling my fifth annual owner rankings and would love to give him some props). Think of it this way, Zygi: Since you're already perceived as being down on your knees, why not take one last, frantic swing for the fences before the games begin?
- Zygi Wilf