The Vikings' youth movement of 2012 has put them in good shape for the future.
With a 10-6 record in 2012, the roster talent provided a winning record sooner than many expected. But after spending heavily on Brett Favre in 2009 and 2010 with an already-aging roster, the Vikings were able to rebuild their salary-cap position, too, over the last year.
They are now in the best spending position in the NFC North Division with $16.1 million in cap space for 2013 after carrying over $8 million from the 2012 salary cap, according to ESPN.
Overall, the Vikings were tied for 12th in the league for salary cap space and were 11th in the amount of money they elected to carry over from last year. Chicago is second in the division, with $13.3 million in cap space, followed by Green Bay with $7.1 million and then Detroit, which is $1.1 million over the projected cap (approximately $121 million).
How the Vikings proceed will be the telling tale. Their moves in the next three months will be a combination of signing their own free agents, signing outside free agents and perhaps looking to trim their cap even further by renegotiating the deals of a couple well-heeled veterans.
THEIR FREE AGENTS
The Vikings have numerous players who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including OL Phil Loadholt, Geoff Schwartz and Joe Berger, FB Jerome Felton, WRs Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashodu, LBs Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley and Marvin Mitchell, and S Jamarca Sanford.
CB A.J. Jefferson is restricted, and OL Troy Kropog, CB Marcus Sherels and S Andrew Sendejo are exclusive-rights free agents.
Loadholt and Felton are likely considered the priority, and it would be risky to lose two of the three starting linebackers. If they had to choose between Brinkley and Henderson, the latter played more in the final games (getting the call as the nickel linebacker), which could bode well for Henderson.
THE HIGH PRICES
The top eight salaries currently on the books for the Vikings are a who's-who on the roster and it will be interesting to see how the team elects to proceed with some of them.
1. DE Jared Allen is set to count a whopping $16.86 million against the salary cap in 2013. Will the Vikings approach him about restructuring, which would also likely include additional years, or will they let him play out the final year of the contract he renegotiated in 2009?
2. Many questioned the wisdom of signing Adrian Peterson to the largest running back contract in NFL history in September 2011, but he is credited with carrying the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012 and is a leading candidate for the league's MVP award. He is also scheduled to count $13.9 million against the cap, but it's unlikely the team will approach him about that, as he has five years remaining on his contract, including three that have prorated portions of his signing bonus.
3. The Vikings signed Peterson at about the same time they locked up LB Chad Greenway for the future. Like Peterson, Greenway has three more years in which the prorated portion of his $8.5 million signing bonus weighs on his cap figure, which is $8.7 million in 2013. So it's unlikely anything will be done with his contract this year.
4. DT Kevin Williams might be a prime candidate to be approached about a restructured deal if the team deems it necessary. His cap figure for 2013 is $7.5 million and he said he would like to play another two to three years. That could be a confluence sparking a renegotiation if they want to keep him around beyond 2013.
5. CB Antoine Winfield is in a similar situation, but he said he wants to play one more year for sure to get to 15 years in the NFL. After that, who know? His 2013 cap charge is $7.25 million and it's also the final year on his contract. He'll play somewhere next year; he's that good. Whether he's $7.25 million good remains to be seen.
6. DE Brian Robison signed what even he believed was an incentivized contract, and he hit the markers to escalate it. He will be entering the final year of his three-year deal and will count $6.67 million against the cap. A renegotiation likely would have to include additional years to make it worth it for either side.
7. T Matt Kalil is the only player on his rookie contract that is in the top-10 cap figures for the Vikings. His cap number is $4.49 million for 2013, mainly because of the prorated portion of his $12.81 million signing bonus. After the way he played as a rookie, there will be no problem justifying that salary in the NFL scheme of things.
8. C John Sullivan may have missed out on a $500,000 bonus by not making the Pro Bowl, but he is still well-compensated. His cap number for 2013 is $4.25 million, and given his youth and level of play, there aren't likely to be any renegotiation discussions.
9. G Charlie Johnson is the third offensive lineman in the top 10 cap numbers for 2013, joining Kalil and Sullivan. Johnson will have a $4.35 million cap figure in 2013, but if the Vikings can stomach that (which is about a $500,000 increase from 2012), then his cap figure falls dramatically in the following two years of his contract, into the $1.46 million range, making a renegotiation unlikely.
Let's call the last two 10a and 10b because they could both be approached in one way or another about changing their contracts.
10a. TE John Carlson had only eight catches on the year and has a cap number of $4 million in 2013, but if the Vikings would simply cut him he would still cost them $4 million against the cap because there is still $4 million in prorated bonus left on future years of the cap. If he were to be cut, it would be a move to save on future caps ($17 million in combined cap charges from 2014-16), not so much this year.
10b. WR Michael Jenkins is in the final year of his contract and is scheduled for a cap charge of $3.92 million, making him a likely candidate to either sign a lesser deal or face being cut. Part of his charge is a $750,000 roster bonus, making his position even more precarious.
With the reported $16.1 million in salary cap space, the Vikings don't have to make any cuts of expensive veterans and would still be able to sign their own free agents they want to keep, but with a couple of their aging veterans nearing the end of their careers and costing $7 million or more on the cap, it seems likely they would look to restructure a few of their top 11 deals to give them more cap and free-agent flexibility.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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