In the cold, cruel world of NFL contracts, seemingly nothing is off limits. Big contracts can suddenly lead to the waiver wire, and accomplished veterans are sometimes asked to swallow their pride and lessen their earnings potential with reduced salaries.
That was the case with cornerback Antoine Winfield, who was released by the Vikings just before the start of free agency when he previously had declined to take a reduced salary. Winfield, who will turn 36 in June, has long been a leader on the Vikings defense, and that didn't change last year, when he was fifth on the team with 110 tackles, including 11 for a loss, tied for the team lead with three interceptions and tied for second with 13 passes defensed. Even so, with age being a primary factor, the Vikings weren't willing to pay his scheduled salary of $7.25 million – which nearly doubled when he met incentives in his 2012 performance – and released him.
It could be the unceremonious end of his Vikings career for the man who was the most tenured NFL player on their roster last year. Winfield is still looking to play, visiting with the Washington Redskins this week, but he will be entering his 15th NFL season.
With about $5 million left under the salary cap and a scheduled 11 draft picks left to pay, the Vikings could be looking for additional salary cap relief in the coming months if they intend on signing any remaining free agents, including those in the "value bin."
So who might be the likely candidates approached about possibly restructuring contracts? After the release of Winfield and receiver Michael Jenkins, and contract restructurings for John Carlson and Charlie Johnson, many of the obvious candidates have already been addressed, but there are a few more possibilities.
Prime among those is Jared Allen. The defensive end who had shoulder surgery after the Pro Bowl is scheduled to count $17,063,961 against the Vikings' salary cap in 2013 with a base salary of $14,280,612 (prorated signing bonus and other incentives help form the cap number). Even Adrian Peterson, with an $11.25 million base salary, has a lower cap number at $13.9 million.
At last report, Allen hadn't been approached about restructuring his contract, perhaps because the Vikings want to wait and see how he looks after surgery, and he is in the final year of his contract – they would want to be sure of his health before signing an extension that would lower his 2013 cap number.
In similar fashion, it would be difficult for the Vikings to approach Peterson about restructuring his contract. He already negotiated an extension in 2011 and is signed through 2017. In his instance, the difficulty comes because he is coming off the best season of his career and he doesn't have lower cap numbers in future seasons, either. His base salary continues to escalate up to $15.75 million in 2017 and his cap number rises to $16 million in the final year of contract.
If there is going to be any more cap relief, the Vikings may have to turn to someone other than Allen on the defensive line. Kevin Williams is scheduled to count $7.5 million against the cap in 2013. He said at the end of the season he planned to stay with the Vikings and play another two or three years and said he wasn't thinking much about restructuring.
"I haven't even thought about it. I'm not going to worry about it," he said. "We'll work something out if that comes up. But I haven't given it much thought."
Another potential candidate is defensive end Brian Robison, who is scheduled for a $4.4 million base salary and a $6,668,668 million cap number. In his case, an extension might be the wise choice. His contract is set to expire after the 2013 season and the Vikings might be able to lower his cap number this year by agreeing to a long-term deal.
After making moves on Winfield, Johnson and Carlson, there aren't a lot of additional candidates to provide the Vikings with any more real cap relief, but there are still a few options available.
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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