MANKATO, Minn. -- Christian Ponder has already missed the first four months of his rookie season, thanks to the NFL lockout that prevented all players from meeting with coaches, practicing at team headquarters and dissecting film to prepare for his first training camp.
So it came as a big relief on Sunday when Ponder signed his rookie contract, giving him plenty of time to get down to Mankato without having to worry about missing any practices for the Minnesota Vikings.
"The crazy thing is down in Florida State in college, you practice four or five weeks before you have a game," Ponder said on Sunday, the day the team was required to report for training camp. "Two weeks from yesterday, we're playing in Tennessee for a preseason game. I'm definitely excited about it. It just feels like it's about time. It's a relief that it's finally here."
Vikings vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski and his staff worked some crazy hours this week after the lockout was lifted to get Ponder and the rest of their 2011 rookie class signed, ensuring that no one will be a holdout as they try to cram four months of teaching and preparation into 12 days of practice.
"A great job by Rob Brzezinski being able to get all of our draft choices signed," coach Leslie Frazier said. "That's a big deal, especially with the offseason being the way it was and trying to get camp started. You don't want to miss guys."
Brzezinski's work is far from finished. New contracts for linebacker Chad Greenway and running back Adrian Peterson could be next.
The Vikings gave Greenway the franchise tag, meaning he will be paid $10 million this season if he does not sign a new, long-term contract. Peterson is due to bring a $12.775 million cap hit in the final year of his rookie contract, so the Vikings have made it a priority to address both players with new contracts that will help ease the team's salary cap situation and keep both bright, young stars in Minnesota.
Greenway said his agent is in contact with the Vikings and Frazier said the team wants to make sure he stays in purple for a long time.
"You'd be ridiculous to be upset with getting that amount of change for one year, especially playing my position in the 4-3," Greenway said. "Obviously, it's a great amount of money, so (I'm) very fortunate for that. The goal was to be in a long-term situation here so I could play here a long time and both sides can be happy."
While some big-name running backs across the league are holding out for long-term deals, Peterson showed up on time Sunday and told Frazier that he doesn't plan to miss any practice time while his situation is being addressed.
Peterson rushed for 1,298 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and has been one of the most dynamic players in the NFL since he came into the league in 2007. The shelf life for running backs can be short, but Frazier said the Vikings are determined to keep the face of their franchise happy.
Frazier said the plan is to finish Greenway first, then move on to Peterson.
"Adrian is a major part, as we've talked about many times, of our future," Frazier said. "So, we're going to eventually get to that point where we want to talk to he and his agent (Ben Dogra) about a long-term deal as well."
Ponder is another major part of the team's future, but just when that future begins remains to be seen. With the lockout wiping out all of the offseason program, the Vikings completed a trade for Donovan McNabb to give the team a veteran quarterback to step in while Ponder learns the ins and outs of the pro game.
McNabb said on Sunday that he wants to play four or five more years, and Frazier has already tabbed the 34-year-old as the starter for this season.
Ponder said he is delighted to learn from McNabb, who cannot practice with the team until Thursday under new league rules. In the meantime, Ponder said he is happy to take all the practice turns he can to speed his development.
"The guy deserves a starting job. He's been in the league for a while," Ponder said of McNabb. "My mentality is to be able to go in and compete and try to get that job from him. He deserves to be the starting quarterback. Somewhere down the road I'm going to push to take that over and we'll see."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press