If the Vikings want to get younger or put themselves in a better salary-cap situation, there are several contracts they could be looking at in the next month. From aging veterans to oft-injured starters, the money men have some possible targets.
It has been one of the most commonly asked questions of the past few weeks: Where are the Vikings with the salary cap?
The answer is that it's a bit of a floating number these days because of cap adjustments and not knowing if they will elect to take up to a $1.5 million cap credit (essentially borrowing from future years), as allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed last year. But the short answer is that they have just under $116 million in salaries for 2012 with a cap that could be anywhere in the $121 million to $125 million range.
That doesn't leave much room for big signings … unless some restructuring is done. With an aging team, there are several candidates the Vikings could approach about restructuring in the coming months.
When it comes to cap space, no one eats up more room for the Vikings than defensive end Jared Allen. With an $11.6 million base salary and a cap charge of $14.2 million, Allen will account for more than 10 percent of the cap, even if it does increase marginally from the $120 million of 2011. Of course, Allen was the NFL sacks leader and the only Viking that made the Pro Bowl as a starter (Chad Greenway was an alternate who ended up playing after an injury knocked out Chicago's Lance Briggs). Some have suggested trading Allen at his prime, but imagine running the Tampa-2 defense without Allen pressuring quarterbacks and changing blocking schemes from his left end position. The Vikings tried that in 2006 and 2007 before jumping at the chance to acquire a then-disgruntled Allen in a trade.
When the Vikings signed Steve Hutchinson to a seven-year, $49 million contract as a transition player in 2006, it was considered a coup that they found a loophole in contract language and acquired the best guard in football. Six years later, Hutchinson has ended the last two seasons on injured reserve and is scheduled to cost the Vikings $7 million in 2012. At the Senior Bowl, head coach Leslie Frazier said Hutchinson had recovered from his latest concussion and wanted to play for another season. Whether he gets that opportunity at his $7 million salary remains to be seen.
Like Hutchinson, Antoine Winfield is also scheduled to cost the Vikings $7 million in cap money (and real money). However, Winfield's salary might come down if he ends up in a nickel role and therefore reduced snaps. Also like Hutchinson, Winfield has struggled with injuries the last two seasons and might be asked to take a paycut even before he plays his first game this year. Either way, he's a valuable veteran cog in the secondary. Whether or not he's $7 million valuable will be up to the Vikings.
Cedric Griffin is another member of the secondary whose contract could be looked at if the Vikings are intent on slashing salary from highly paid players that have seen a drop in production. Coming back from two torn anterior cruciate ligaments over a two-year span, Griffin struggled last year and was demoted for a time. At $4.1 million in base salary and a $4.65 cap charge, the Vikings may wait to see if he rebounds this summer the further away he gets from his knee surgeries. With uncertainty surrounding Chris Cook, they really could use Griffin to return to pre-injury form … or sign a free agent, which appears to at least be an interest with their inquiry of released CB Stanford Routt.
The final big contract that should at least be examined in an attempt to better position themselves in the salary-cap pool is that of Kevin Williams. He is due a $7 million base, and with workout and prorated portions of his signing bonus, his cap charge is a healthy $8.4 million. He showed signs of his former form at times in 2011 – registering all five of his sacks in the final seven games of the season – but can he replicate that pace throughout an entire season and get back into the double-digit territory that has eluded him since 2004 (his last contract, which runs through 2014, was signed in 2007)? That's doubtful, but he and the Vikings would benefit by a reduction in the nagging injuries that have plagued him the last few years.
The Vikings have other budget busters on the roster, too, after signing Adrian Peterson and Greenway to contract extensions before the start of the 2011 season, but those aren't likely to be redone so soon afterward. Peterson's contract calls for an $8 million base salary and a $12.7 million cap charge, but he should be given every opportunity to work back to his All-Pro form during the 2012 season. Greenway is due a guaranteed $5.9 million in base salary and has a $7.3 million cap number, but a return to Fred Pagac as his linebackers coach could help him and the team justify that payout.
If the Vikings truly want to get younger and put themselves in a better cap position, there are several players making more than $4 million – and many of them far more than that – whose agents could be hearing from the team in the coming months. Whether those calculated calls provide any relief or releases won't be known for about 30 days.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.