Although the team is currently about $12.3 million under the NFL salary cap for 2013 (which still has to be set), Spielman would rather continue down the path of improving the roster first and foremost through the draft.
"I'm not a real big believer in spending in free agency. We're always going to try to build through the draft and continue to do that because I think that way you maintain a roster that can be competitive year in and year out, not only on the field but also from a financial standpoint of staying within the cap and looking at the overall cash," Spielman said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I think you have a lot more success when you sign your own players as unrestricted free agents because you know them the best, and if you screw up signing one of your own guys and he doesn't pan out, then that's a fault on you."
The Vikings have 10 unrestricted free agents and are meeting with the agents of those players over the next few days at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Negotiations with teams' free agents can start on March 9, three days in advance of being able to sign them – it's the first time the NFL is technically allowing advanced negotiations.
Spielman figures that some of the Vikings' free agents will want to wait until they have a chance to negotiate with other teams before making a decision about re-signing. But the Vikings still see less risk in re-signing their own players … for the right price.
"I think it's a little riskier when you go out and try to sign other team's UFAs (unrestricted free agents)," Spielman said. "I don't know if you looked at the statistical analysis of how many of those guys have actually had success coming into new programs. And sometimes, even those guys when they come in, I don't want to call them rookies because they're veterans, but they take time to adjust to their new teammates, take time to adjust to their new surroundings, take time to adjust to the new offense that they're running."
Spielman should know. The Vikings' two biggest free-agent signings on offense last year were with tight end John Carlson and wide receiver Jerome Simpson. Carlson signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Vikings last year and had only eight catches, as injuries cut into his training camp and preseason and Kyle Rudolph emerged as one of the league's better pass-catching tight ends. Simpson signed a one-year, $2 million contract and he struggled with injury for much of the season.
"It's not always as smooth a transition as people would think it would be," Spielman said. "But last year we took the position of not spending. We spent some money on John Carlson, but other than that we spent it on one-year guys that we gave really low contracts. I don't want to call them rent-a-players."
Spielman's preferred method is to build through the draft. This year, the Vikings have nine picks in the draft and Spielman is hoping to increase it to 10 picks before the draft is over.
In addition to keeping the team in better shape with the salary cap, Spielman indicated that sometimes costly veterans can be played ahead of younger players even if they are performing better.
"A veteran might be slightly ahead of (a draft pick) as you're going through training camp and as you're going through the preseason, but is that rookie going to pass him in Week 3, 4 or 5? Does he have the chance to be developed into a better player than where that current vet is?" Spielman asked. "So it doesn't lock you into the situation where you're saying we have to keep this vet because we've paid him X amount. We can keep who we think is the best available player and the best player for us. And that's the kind of philosophy we had last year."
Although the Vikings will meet with representatives for all of their free agents, Spielman said he wouldn't be surprised if they left the combine without any extensions in place.
"We'll kind of get a gauge on where their thought process is and what their value is and how we see the value and start with that," Spielman said. "But we do have that three-week cushion to kind of work through that. So I don't know if anything specifically will get done immediately, just because a lot of times those deals don't get done until the 11th hour. …
"I'm anticipating some of the guys waiting until they can actually start negotiating with other teams in that three-day window to actually get a true gauge of what their value is and what they see the potential market will be for that player. So it will be a lot of dancing and getting to know each other from that standpoint."
Pending free agents can talk to other teams starting March 9, but they can't go on visits until free agency officially opens on March 12.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.