Topping the charts were linebacker Heath Farwell and Jeff Dugan, two hard-working veterans of the team that carved out valuable roles over the years. In six seasons with the Vikings, Farwell worked his way from undrafted rookie to a sought-after commodity in the free-agent market two years ago. Back in 2009, he got interest from the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, but decided to return to the Vikings after a strong commitment from them.
That $1.75 million commitment had to have played a part in the Vikings releasing him. That was his base salary – a big stipend for a special-teams player – and by cutting him, the Vikings save all of that money on their salary-cap structure.
Dugan was another hard-working, blue-collar player. Rare was the day when the blocking tight end wasn't the last player on the field, banging on a blocking sled not only as other players walked off the field but long afterwards, when reporters continued to conduct interviews with players and coaches 15 minutes after the final whistle.
"There's some possibilities I might be back, but at this point I have to look for a new home!," Farwell said in a text. "I've appreciated the opportunity to play in a class organization and thank the Wilf family for everything."
Dugan's release opened the door for former Iowa tight end Allen Reisner, a rookie free agent who costs only $375,000, a savings of about $500,000. The actual spending isn't a problem for the Vikings – the Wilf ownership group is never afraid to spend when necessary (as their commitment to bring in Brett Favre showed) – but the salary cap is a factor. The Vikings entered the weekend with less than $400,000 to spare under the salary cap, but head coach Leslie Frazier said the cap wouldn't dictate their cuts.
"We're fortunate here in Minnesota where the Wilf family is going to do whatever is necessary for us to be competitive and salary-cap wise, we're in good shape," Frazier said after Thursday's preseason finale. "We're in better shape than people realize. We don't have to make any decision on our roster based on our cap."
In one sense, Frazier is right. They didn't have to cut salary for the here and now, but if they want to add any veterans to fill in a position or two with experience, they needed the room to be able to do that and they will have about 800 new players on the free-agent from which to choose.
The reality is that, while they saved some cap room with their cuts, if that was all those moves were about, they could have made a different decision at tight end. Dugan, Jim Kleinsasser and Visanthe Shiancoe were all in the final year of their contract. Shiancoe is due $3.1 million in base salary and Kleinsasser is due $3 million. Choosing either of those options over Dugan would have made it clear that was all about saving under the cap.
Instead, by cutting Dugan, the most important revelation of their roster moves is that they were determined to younger, a necessary transformation of their roster after banking on the failed all-in of 2009.
A quick look at some of the other moves and how much salary they were due: