MINNEAPOLIS -- Ask Chad Greenway for a timetable of when he'd like to have a new deal worked out with the Minnesota Vikings, and the 33-year-old linebacker responds with more of a quip than an ultimatum.
"Probably pre-draft, I would guess," Greenway said with a laugh on Tuesday afternoon.
Such is the tenor of Greenway's negotiations with the Vikings, which still retain a cordial feel even as Greenway concludes his second full week on the open market. The 10-year veteran has maintained he wants to return to the Vikings for an 11th (and probably final) season, and coach Mike Zimmer has said he expects Greenway will return in the same role he filled in 2015, working at weak-side linebacker in the base defense and providing a steady hand for the Vikings' linebacker group.
Greenway is a free agent for the first time in his career, and he played well enough to garner interest from some other teams after the free agent market opened on March 9. That interest came at a time where the Vikings signed linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and Travis Lewis to provide depth at the position, and at age 33, Greenway is in the position of contemplating life with another NFL team for the first time. Still, Greenway said Tuesday his goal remains the same.
"It kind of happened on its own, with teams reaching out to us, just because the deal hadn't gotten done," Greenway said. "We knew that Minnesota had to look at the free agent linebackers when we hit the market, knowing I've been here for a long time. And even if you're a free agent, teams aren't going to look at you and be like, 'Well, you're the No. 1 option, at 33 years old, when you've been with a team for 10 years.' Knowing all those things, the goal has always been to be back here, in the right situation, to be able to compete and be part of a great team."
Talks with the Vikings, Greenway said, have "kind of been idle," with the front office at the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, this week. But Greenway admitted his side hasn't been pushing the timetable yet.
"They're very busy, and tied up with free agency as well, and now the owners meeting hits," Greenway said. "I can't say that we've been in a huge hurry on our side, either."
Before Greenway discussed the final chapters of a playing career that's earned him more than $50 million, he looked back on his days growing up on a farm in Mt. Vernon, South Dakota, where his family had to select the yearly pair of shoes he'd use for everything from school to church to work. "Every dollar you make has to go back into your farm -- whether it's for a payment on a new tractor, or fix this, or fix that," he said. "Whatever it is, [the farm is] number one; you've got to keep that going. Not that we were low-income, but we definitely didn't have excess."
The linebacker spoke at the Minnesota State Capitol in support of the ethanol industry, which contributed $2 billion to Minnesota's 2015 GDP and invigorated rural economies like the one in Greenway's hometown by giving farmers a consistent buyer for their corn.
Greenway met Jeff Broin, the CEO of Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based ethanol producer POET LLC, eight years ago at the Metrodome after a Vikings game. Broin's decision to bet on ethanol and buy a plant out of foreclosure captivated Greenway, and the two have been working together ever since. The company had opened an ethanol refining plant in Loomis, South Dakota, near Greenway's hometown while the linebacker was at the University of Iowa, and on his trips home, he'd seen the effects of a sturdy employer and rising demand for crops.
"Say you're a restaurant owner," Greenway said. "Well, now you're affected because you have more people that live there. The school districts have more kids; you get more money from the state to have after-school activities. It literally directly affects everybody, because back there, you don't have the 3Ms. You don't have the big companies you're able to get a job at. It's one of the big ones we can kind of reach to. A lot of my family, if they weren't farmers, they would have gotten a job [somewhere else]. You make more money with corn, the farmers have more, there are more opportunities for the kids coming up. It kind of goes hand-in-hand."
What Greenway learned on the farm has always colored his approach to football, and his thoughts on his first foray into free agency came with a touch of agrarian humility: self-deprecating jokes, an absence of pretense and an understanding of his place in the bigger picture.
A deal with the Vikings, Greenway believes, can come to fruition any time. Is there part of him that thought it would be done sooner?
"Yes and no, because every negotiation's been different," Greenway said. "Once you get to free agency, which I've never done, now you need to see the options that are out there. That's one of the risks they obviously took by letting me get to free agency -- knowing that 33-year-olds aren't sought after in the market at much as they probably used to be. But we're hopeful something will get done."