Welcome to the business season of the NFL, where the focus is more about finances than football.
The Vikings are not alone in making difficult, sometimes "cutthroat" economic decisions, as one player put it. The easiest decision for the Vikings should be with the use of their franchise and transition tags. To be blunt: They aren't worth using this year for the Vikings.
The transition tag has become a relatively useless designation because there is no compensation in return if another team outbids the Vikings for a player's services. The franchise tag isn't worth it for the Vikings this year, either, but for a different reason – they don't have any players worth the money it would take to guarantee their return, and that includes right tackle Phil Loadholt.
The offensive line is one of the most unbalanced positions when it comes to franchise tag computation. Centers and guards, usually valued much less than tackles – especially left tackles – are all lumped together when figuring out the tag values. So a center would have to be paid the average of the top five salaries on the offensive line over the last five years if he were given the franchise tag. In essence, anyone that is not a left tackle and might be worth considering for a franchise tag would have to be paid like the highest valued left tackles.
In Loadholt's case, it would require a one-year payment of $9.83 million, a ransom not really relevant right tackles.
Considering that Jerome Felton is the only of the Vikings' free agents that made the Pro Bowl, and his "franchise value" is set by all running backs, not just fullbacks, at $8.22 million, there isn't a Viking among the free agents that should be receiving the franchise tag.
So far, it's been all about blood-letting with the NFL talent. Players like Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and John Abraham have been released along the defensive line, along with RB Michael Turner, WR Steve Breaston, T Jason Smith and LBs Calvin Pace and Bart Scott, to name just a few.
Most of those were released for salary cap reasons and/or declining production. With just over $14 million in salary-cap space, the Vikings won't be forced to make any critical cuts, but they could certainly turn to their own veterans to create more space.
They are currently barely in the top half of teams for salary cap space, with Cincinnati ($54 million), Cleveland ($48 million), Miami ($47 million) and Indianapolis (44.5 million) all in an excellent salary-cap space. Carolina is $8 million over, New Orleans is $5.5 million over and a few others teams are barely in the red, having until the start of free agency on March 12 to get in the black with their 51 top-paid players.
What that means for the Vikings is that there could be even more veteran cuts coming around the league this week, and if they can address some of their own hefty contracts by either restructuring, reducing or releasing, it could help the Vikings' situation. Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield would all be candidates, with Williams and Winfield counting more than $7 million each against the cap and Allen more than $14 million. Allen and Winfield are in the final year of their contracts while Williams has two years remaining.
General manager Rick Spielman said he doesn't expect the Vikings to be overly aggressive in free agency, but that was claim last year. Not only did the Vikings sign tight end John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million contract, they also joined the pursuit of receiver Pierre Garcon, who went to the high-bidding Washington Redskins with a five-year, $42.5 million contract.
Getting some cap relief from the highly paid greybeards would allow the Vikings to make another similar receiver pursuit this year. Without it, however, it's unlikely they can re-sign a few of their own free agents and have enough to make a significant run in outside free agency.
Getting an early gauge on the market with a new three-day negotiating window before the start of free agency should help set the asking prices for outside free agents. If the Vikings hear what they want and think they could be in the game for one or two talents, they may need to make some tough business decisions with mainstays of the roster.
PRICE OF TAG
Here are the franchise and transition tag numbers:
Quarterbacks: Franchise $14,896,000; transition $13,068,000
Wide receivers: $10,537,000; $8,867,000
Running backs: $8,219,000; $6,970,000
Tight ends: $6,066,000; $5,194,000
Offensive line: $9,828,000; $8,709,000
Defensive tackles: $8,450,000; $7,039,000
Defensive ends: $11,175,000; $9,151,000
Linebackers: $9,619,000; $8,358,000
Cornerbacks: $10,854,000; $9,095,000
Safeties: $6,916,000; $6,002,000
Punters/kickers: $2,977,000; $2,700,000
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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