A frost began developing after the 2009 NFC Championship Game, during which Rice suffered a hip injury that eventually required major surgery. It never thawed, and for that reason it came as no surprise Wednesday night when Rice agreed to terms on a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the deal includes $18.5 million guarantees.
Like all other contracts, the agreement is pending a physical. Rice's will be a little more important than most; microfracture surgery on a hip is no small procedure. I know for a fact the Vikings were concerned about the long-term implications, and I can make an educated guess that Rice resented that concern, even after the injury caused him more than half of the 2010 season. That injury played a big role in the Vikings deciding against a contract before the 2010 season. No player likes to hear such news.
At some point, I also think Rice also grew weary of thinly-veiled implications last season from former coach Brad Childress, who questioned the timing of Rice's decision to have surgery and later suggested Rice wasn't as eager to return from rehabilitation as he should have. Rice eventually wrote a blog post for his personal website with this headline: "A Bunch of Bull."
Anytime a player feels compelled to respond to "A Bunch of Bull," it's fair to question whether he will look for a fresh start as soon as the opportunity arose.
The new collective bargaining agreement gave Rice a chance this summer, making him an unrestricted free agent. Despite the hip issue, he is only one year removed from an 83-catch Pro Bowl season and was sure to generate interest. The Vikings have a new offensive staff and a new head coach in Leslie Frazier who wanted him back, but it appears the damage was done.
I don't know what other team, if any, was in pursuit. But it only takes one to make a deal, and Rice eagerly jumped into an offense that is unsettled at best. Former Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will install a version of the West Coast scheme possibly with former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson behind center. Former Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable, meanwhile, has been hired to re-shape the offensive line.
Free agent receivers usually take into account a suitor's stability at quarterback, and the Seahawks appear to be in transition. That should tell you how hot Rice was for a change of scenery. Not even the Vikings' pursuit of quarterback Donovan McNabb was enough to change Rice's mind.
NFC North defensive coordinators no doubt are breathing a sigh of relief. When healthy, Rice is nearly impossible to defend when the ball is in the air. He is 6-foot-4, has long arms and excellent ball skills. In 2009, quarterback Brett Favre quickly learned to trust that Rice could consistently outfight smaller defenders for the ball, no matter how closely he was covered.
As we discussed Tuesday, the Vikings will now rely on Percy Harvin as a quasi-No. 1 receiver. Veteran Bernard Berrian, whose future has been in doubt, said via Twitter that he has been given a playbook. For now, it appears he will remain with the Vikings.
Still, I think the Vikings are going to have to make a deal, via trade or free agency, for a veteran receiver at some point. I've heard some names, but nothing is confirmed. Stay tuned on that one.