Team Strapped For Cap Cash

The Vikings may face a challenge in signing draft picks like Willie Howard and adding a veteran free agent, but they aren't the only team in the league facing a player budget tight up against the cap.

A lot has been made of the Vikings' problems with the salary cap, the reason cited most often for the release of Vikings vets like Randall McDaniel, Randall Cunningham, John Randle and Todd Steussie — as well as not pursuing free agents like Jeff Christy, Dwayne Rudd and Tony Williams.

But the Vikings are far from alone. VU has learned that, of the 31 NFL teams, the league average for available cap space is just $2 million per team, but more than half of that total is locked into just six teams — Cincinnati ($7.5 million), Philadelphia ($6.1 million), Cleveland ($5.1 million), Arizona ($4.5 million), Detroit ($4.2 million) and Seattle ($4.1 million). With the recent restructuring of Steve McNair's contract, the Titans have opened up more cap room, but they are among the few teams with money to pursue free agents.

In fact, the state of the NFL is so bad right now that a lot of quality veterans — like Super Bowl winning QB Trent Dilfer, DT Cortez Kennedy and cornerbacks Terrell Buckley and Eric Davis — may find themselves out of work when the regular season begins.

Of the 31 teams in the league, VU has been told that a dozen of them have less than $1 million in available cap space and six of those have less than $500,000 — and that doesn't even take into account signing rookies. The Vikings currently have about $2 million in cap space, but most of that money is earmarked for drafted rookies — the actual money spent will be much more, but the cap value of those contracts will be considerably less.

The bottom line is that the Vikings may be forced to pass on the free agent market, unless a couple of veterans re-work their deals to give a player like CB Dale Carter an incentive-laden deal that will bring him into the fold. When the subject of the salary cap is revisited following the 2003 season, there may be wholesale changes made to the cap — perhaps turning it into a "soft" cap like the NBA has that will allow teams to re-sign their own players without the constraints that exist with signing other teams' free agent. But, as it stands now, a lot of teams are in the same boat as the Vikings and, in the next couple of years, teams like Washington and Tampa Bay will be so cap strapped that they won't be able to wiggle at all under the current system.

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