‘Dead money’ considerations for big contracts

The Vikings have several big contracts to consider in the coming weeks and months, but the dead money portion of those contracts will be a consideration on who stays and who goes.

Over the next few weeks and months, we’re going to hear the term “Dead Money” thrown around a lot.

No, it has nothing to do with the start of the new season of “The Walking Dead,” but, in many ways, it is similar.

Dead money is the term used to describe the amount of a contract that will count against the salary cap even if a team releases that player. Sometimes the dead money can be the difference between keeping a guy or cutting him loose. If the dead money is too high, it makes economic sense to keep the player. If the dead money is minimal, a savings against the cap can be achieved.

The most obvious example in Minnesota of the dead money quandary is Adrian Peterson. Because he has played out the significant guaranteed bonus portion of his contract, if the Vikings were to keep Peterson, he would count $15.4 million against the salary cap – $12.75 million in base salary and $2.65 million in bonuses (both annual bonuses and a pro-rated share of his signing bonus). If Peterson isn’t back, only $2.4 million of his salary counts as dead money against the salary cap. It would free up $13 million.

Chad Greenway is in a similar position. His 2015 cap number is $8.8 million ($7 million base salary and $1.8 million in bonuses. But, his dead money is only $1.7 million. If he won’t restructure his contract, the Vikings would open up and additional $7.1 million in cap space if they released him, which makes that decision to restructure or be released almost inevitable.

Where it gets dicey is with a contract like Greg Jennings possesses. His cap hit is a whopping $11 million for 2015 ($8.9 million in base salary and $2.1 million in bonuses), but the dead money in his contract would be $6 million. The Vikings would save just $5 million against the salary cap, but Jennings is currently boasting a top-10 wide receiver cap number – far too high for his production. The dead-money hit would be stiff if they can’t work out a new deal that is more cap-friendly. Here is where dead money draws a line in the sand. If Jennings is unwilling to restructure, the hit would be hard but a principle the team might have to adhere to for “the business.”

If you’re one of those that wants Matt Kalil out, guess again. It makes no cap sense – literally – to get rid of Kalil. His cap number is essentially $6.3 million for 2015 (almost $3.1 million in salary and $3.2 million in bonuses). If the Vikings release him, they take the entire $6.3 million as a dead money cap hit. Kalil isn’t going anywhere.

In the strange world of dead money, as far as the salary cap is concerned, if something went seriously south with Everson Griffen, the Vikings would take a bigger dead money cap hit ($11.7 million) than Griffen will count against the cap itself ($8.2 million for 2015).

It’s voodoo economics, but it’s how the NFL works.

Anyone who has seen Peterson play knows how special he is. Vikings fans can multiply that feeling exponentially having seen him on a weekly basis perform the on-field magic he does. Much like Calvin Johnson and Peyton Manning and Terrell Suggs and Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis, Peterson is a veteran superstar who still has gas left in the tank but is facing the realities of the salary cap and the dead money proposition. Manning isn’t a Colt anymore. Revis isn’t a Jet. The numbers got too high to fit in the organizational structure they had in Indy and New York. Peterson may be the latest in that long line, which has included a slew of Hall of Fame players.

Many Vikings fans if they would like to see No. 28 back with the Vikings next year, but $13 million in additional salary cap space is huge, much less the amounts that can be recouped if Greenway and Jennings are willing to restructure to lower their cap numbers or are allowed to leave.

Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner inherited a roster of defensive and offensive players when they signed on to run their respective sides of the ball for the Vikings. They’ve had a year to evaluate their talent – who has to stay and who they could live without. Dead money hamstrings an organization – just ask the Vikings of the early 2000s about that. The term “salary cap hell” was bandied about. Thank you, Jeff Diamond, who ironically repeated the salary cap scorched-earth policy in Tennessee years later.

The “family business” of the NFL is such that players are viewed as family until they’re no longer a value. Then it becomes a business. As much as it pains those who have appreciated what Peterson has given the Vikings franchise and the indelible memories he has left for Vikings fans, the business side of things would dictate that, barring his willingness to restructure his contract, it may be in the best interest of the organization to part ways with A.P. and free up $13 million to re-sign their own players or bring in players from the outside in free agency.

It may seem a bit unseemly, but that’s the boat the Vikings are in these days.

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