The Vikings' first day of free agency was about getting back some of what they had. With at least half of that work done, they can turn their attention to outside additions.
In the hours leading up and then after Tuesday's 3 p.m. start to free agency, the Vikings were restructuring the contract of at least one player, terminating the contract of another and re-signing players they had in the fold last year.
The restructuring: The Vikings shaved $1.4 million off the 2013 base salary of tight end John Carlson and essentially turned the rest into incentives.
The termination: The Vikings released cornerback Antoine Winfield after he reportedly declined to take a pay cut on his scheduled $7.25 million salary in 2013, the final year of his contract.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman left open the possibility for Winfield's return, which would have to be at a lower salary, but that seems unlikely.
"I had spoken with Antoine earlier today, spoken with his agent, but I won't get into anything from a discussion standpoint on what we said," Spielman said Tuesday after confirming Winfield's release.
"These decisions are very, very hard to make. That's why we want to definitely keep the door open for potentially having Antoine return. But we have to make all the pieces fit into the puzzle, as well."
The puzzle Spielman was referring to was the salary cap. The Vikings started the day about $13 million under the salary cap and increased that to more than $20 million before accounting for the re-signing of their own free agents.
"We're in good shape under the salary cap. As these deals come in, as we're working these deals, and the emphasis right now is really focusing on our own UFAs (unrestricted free agents), so we have three or four or five different things going on right now upstairs," Spielman said. "As those deals come in, we'll find out where we're at from a cap standpoint. But we're in good shape from a salary cap standpoint."
Later, Spielman said "cap room can be deceiving" because it changes as deals with their own free agents are signed. It certainly fluctuated throughout the day, going up with Winfield's release and down again as the Vikings signed six of their own unrestricted free agents.
The re-signings: In the span of about eight hours, the Vikings came to terms with RT Phil Loadholt, FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson and S Jamarca Sanford on multi-year contracts and re-signed WR Jerome Simpson and C Joe Berger to one-year deals. All of them were unrestricted free agents.
Earlier, the Vikings made qualifying offers to restricted free agent CB A.J. Jefferson and exclusive rights free agent CB Marcus Sherels.
That left LB Jasper Brinkley, OL Geoff Schwartz, LB Marvin Mitchell and WR Devin Aromashodu as unsigned unrestricted free agents.
"We're talking to everybody. So it'll all depend on how things shake out. Because as one piece gets put in place maybe another piece gets eliminated, it all depends on the market they're looking for and how that fits into the whole big picture," Spielman said.
The general manager said he didn't plan on releasing any more veterans for salary cap room but admitted that "this is a very fluid business."
But in releasing Winfield, the message was obvious: Spielman remains intent on building a young roster and has 11 draft picks to continue that mission in April. In Spielman's mind, however, getting younger doesn't mean sacrificing the short-term future for the long term.
"We think we're going to compete next year. There's no doubt about that, because we were a playoff team last year," he said. "And by keeping your own, and continuing to build through the draft, and the success we've had the last couple years with the draft, and we feel very strong about this draft class coming up, that's the approach and the philosophy we've believed in, and we've shown we are having success with that philosophy."
The trade of WR Percy Harvin brought the Vikings an additional first-round pick, the 25th overall, this year. It will give the Vikings two first-round picks, as well as six in the first 117 picks.
With Harvin gone, Michael Jenkins released and Devin Aromashodu a free agent, the Vikings have only Simpson (22 catches), Jarius Wright (26 catches) and Stephen Burton (five catches) as returning wide receivers from the 2012 active roster. That makes it an obvious position to target in the draft, and possibly still in free agency.
"I don't think you panic, because you don't line up and play until August. There are so many things that happen between now and then. Your roster isn't set tomorrow by 4 o'clock," Spielman said. "I mean, it's a continuous process and you have to be patient. You have to have a schematic-type approach and doing your due diligence. And if there's something out there that we think not only is going to help us in the short term but the long term, we'll definitely take a peek at it. But if there's something out there that we don't feel very good about it, then we're not going to do it. We're not going to just do something just to do it. We're going to be very meticulous on how we handle this."
Asked about Packers free-agent receiver Greg Jennings specifically, Speilman emphasized the need to re-sign their own rather bringing in an older veteran that isn't familiar with the Vikings' system. Jennings could be primed to return to Green Bay.
"If we can sign some of those guys back that were a key to that success (in 2012), and then have another strong draft, we feel very excited about the direction this team is going," Spielman said.
"We think we're going to compete next year. There's no doubt about that."
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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