June 1 is less than two weeks away. While that date may not be significant to many, other than kids in school, in the NFL June 1 is huge.
That's the date teams can start clearing the decks of their salary cap albatrosses -- much like the Vikings did to rid themselves of the ill-fated monster contract signed by Randall Cunningham.
It's also a chance for teams with available salary cap money to pick up some bargains in veteran players who signed big deals a few years ago and can't live up to the cap figures that are associate with their production. For example, a player like Greg Biekert, who was a glove fit for the Vikings, wasn't a perfect fit for the Raiders with his cap number and a ready replacement in the wings.
So it is for the Vikings, who await the June 1 cap casualties like a hungry dog with a big bone in front of his face. According to VU sources close to the situation, the Vikes have between $15-16 million in available cap space heading into the coming season. It should be noted for those who thought Daunte Culpepper's new deal ate into that, as reported here at the time, his deal was "an extension" and not a new contract. There is no cap hit for Culpepper this year -- he's still working technically on the final season of his rookie contract.
So then, where do the Vikings stand? For a team that has an 11-21 record over the last two seasons, the Vikings are surprisingly set heading into 2003. The only clear area of need is at safety, but even that isn't a dire situation. Depending on how the Vikings approach the situation, players like Lee Flowers (Steelers), , Kwame Lassiter (Cardinals), Anthony Dorsett (Raiders) and even Jason Sehorn (Giants) can all serve as viable options. With as much or more money as anyone to spend, the Vikings have the luxury of being able to outbid anyone else once the cap money gets freed up June 1.
But the buying spree may extend beyond that. While the competition for free agency will pick up in earnest June 1 -- teams can borrow from Peter to pay Paul without immediate ramifications -- the Vikings have the chance to make a big splash if they choose to.
Still looking for the top-notch run-stuffing DT they passed on with Jimmy Kennedy? Chester McGlockton is still available. Tired of injured wide receivers who have potential on paper but not on the field? Oronde Gadsden is still on the market.
That list will bloat as of June 1, when several big-name veterans with equally bloated contracts will be thrown into the free-agent pool. The only question now is whether the Vikings will have the latitude to make a short-term run while waiting for the long-term prospects currently in subordinate roles to pan out.
The team has the option to do something rarely seen in the NFL -- front-load a contract for current franchise designee Jim Kleinsasser. While many teams shy away from throwing out the big money of a deal in the first couple of years, the Vikings have the space to do it and, by making Kleinsasser a franchise player, the feeling is obvious that he plays a big role in the future of the offense. He could be signed to a deal with a big first-year base salary and cap-friendly numbers in the subsequent years -- taking advantage of current cap availability.
While much of the discussion of spending potential lays with Red McCombs, who some national media wags have said orchestrated the botched draft-day debacle from No. 7 to No. 9 with no compensation, he does hold the keys to the vault. If "Purple Pride" is more than a catchphrase, McCombs has a chance at getting back to the big time quicker than many might imagine at this point. Now the question is whether he will show the money to those in charge of engineering deals.
There is no offseason in football anymore. But, how far the Vikings go in 2003 may in large part be determined by what happens from June 1 until the opening of training camp. In many respects, the team is set at many positions. But, there is never such a thing as too much depth and too many impact players.
If the Vikings coaching staff has the finanical leeway to spend up to the cap limit this season, here is one statement you can cut-and-paste and save until December -- the bandwagon starts here and starts now. Get on or stay off.
* VU got word Sunday of a tragedy involving former Vikings assistant coach Ray Sherman. A 14-year-old boy was shot and killed this weekend at Sherman's home. While initial reports are sketchy, Sherman remains a member of the Vikings family -- the fact he's coaching with Green Bay means nothing in respect to this tragedy -- and our best wishes go out to him. As more information becomes available, VU will follow up this story.
* One of the best impressions to come out of minicamp was Culpepper living up to coach Mike Tice's expectation that he become more of a student of the game. The initial post-minicamp reaction was that Culpepper was as sharp as he's ever been -- making reads better and going through his progressions better. Last year he was saddled with the baggage of the "Randy Ratio." It's clear now that, as the QB of the present and the future, he won't force passes to meet a quota -- and he looks ready to live up to his new contract by becoming the leader the coaches envision he will be.
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