The Vikings' Sidney Rice and the NFC West

One of the NFL's best young receivers, Sidney Rice, expects to hit the market if and when free agency begins.

Let's roll out the NFC West welcoming mat, shall we?

In a normal NFL offseason, teams would sign free agents before the draft, crossing off needs as they positioned themselves to select the best players available with less regard for position.

The current labor mess threatens to disrupt the usual order of business. That could make it tougher for Rice and other projected free agents to maximize their value.

We can still dream, and if I were running the Seattle Seahawks or St. Louis Rams, the 24-year-old Rice would rank high on my list of targets. But first I'd want team doctors to fully assess the hip injury that required surgery and affected Rice last season. Without that injury, the Vikings presumably would have re-signed Rice by now or considered naming him their franchise player, a designation they used for linebacker Chad Greenway.

Rice caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns during the 2009 season. He was looking like the NFL's next great wideout until the hip injury struck during the NFC title game. Rice played only six games in 2010, catching 17 passes for 280 yards and two scores.

Seattle and St. Louis make the most sense among NFC West suitors because, unlike Arizona and San Francisco, neither team has invested heavily in the receiver position. The Seahawks also have ties to Rice now that former Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has taken the same job in Seattle.

St. Louis should stand as an attractive landing spot for any receiver now that Sam Bradford is settled in at quarterback there. The team already has a top-notch running back and key building blocks on the offensive line.

If Rice checked out medically, adding him would allow the Rams to more comfortably focus on other positions in the draft. But if the hip remained a concern, the Rams would have to think twice about adding another surgically repaired wideout to a collection already featuring Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton and Danario Alexander.