Spielman said the Vikings would likely “lay in the weeds” at the outset of free agency, and that was their tactic when the opening bell sounded Tuesday for the open market. They added only backup quarterback Shaun Hill in outside free agency and re-signed a few of their own, including key backups on both sides of the line in guard Joe Berger and defensive tackle Tom Johnson.
Spielman was also prophetic when he hedged his statement on free agency three weeks earlier at the NFL Scouting Combine, saying they would likely only be aggressive if something “unique” presented itself. When that happened – Spielman told ESPN he only found out about Wallace being on the trading block Friday morning at the Ohio State pro day – he quickly jumped into action like the giddy dealmaker he is on draft weekend when trade opportunities arise.
Wanting Wallace since he was a free agent in 2013, Spielman worked out a deal with the Dolphins to bring Wallace and a seventh-round draft pick to Minnesota for only a fifth-round pick in return. He acted quickly to bring the necessary deep threat to Norv Turner’s offense.
But that move also portended to other moves that would need to be made. Bluntly put, salary needed to be slashed elsewhere if the Vikings were going to make any more free agent moves, especially if defensive end Michael Johnson is the third outside addition to the team in a week’s span.
Wallace not only brings with him a 1,000-yard deep threat but also a $9.85 million salary. That brought the Vikings’ cap space below $9 million, with the need for about half that to be dedicated to their draft picks. If Johnson signs, that would have about done it for the Vikings, unless, of course, an expected R&R period ensued. That’s not rest and relaxation. It’s restructure or be released.
Ironically, this article was being written as one of those moves was made on Saturday. The Vikings decided to move on without Greg Jennings, who was No. 2 on their salary eaters (behind Adrian Peterson) before the Wallace deal. Wallace takes his place on the roster and at No. 2 in the salary rankings on the team. It’s unclear if the Vikings asked Jennings to restructure his deal before cutting him, but it is the right move for the long-term health of the salary cap.
They still have Jarius Wright, who appears ready to come into his own as a slot receiver, and now have Wallace as a deep threat to complement Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson. Their receiving corps should be in good shape.
But since the end of the season, four contracts have stood out as prime possibilities for cut-throat business action. Matt Cassel was traded, freeing up $4.75 million. Charlie Johnson was released, giving the Vikings another $2.5 million. And Jennings was the third of the four.
That leaves the top-heavy contract of linebacker Chad Greenway at the forefront of the next dollar-deduction discussions.
Jennings was scheduled to make $8.9 million in base salary in 2015 with a salary-cap hit of $11 million. However, with $6 million left in prorated signing bonus, cutting him saved $5 million this year. The move also erases $11 million cap numbers in 2016 and 2017.
Greenway is due $7 million in base salary in the final year of his contract with an $8.8 million cap number. It’s the third-highest payout for a 4-3 outside linebacker in 2015, the third-highest in average per year and the third-highest total contract, according to overthecap.com.
Greenway, being a wise veteran to the ways of the league, knew at the end of the year that a restructured contract was a distinct possibility and didn’t sound averse to the possibility. He’s from South Dakota, played college ball at Iowa and has made his home in Minnesota.
“It plays a big role,” Greenway said of staying close to home. “My daughters are big-time Vikings fans. It would be a change if (leaving) had to happen. We make every decision based on our family. We won’t change for this decision. It won’t simply come down to money or business. It’ll come down to what’s best for the family and we’ll stay consistent with those decisions.”
Together, Jennings (No. 2) and Greenway (No. 4) had two of the top four Vikings contract before the Wallace trade. Peterson, at $12.75 million, led the way, but if the Vikings have any shot of him returning happy, they aren’t going to be able to lower that number, and the key decision-makers seem on board that Peterson in the backfield and Wallace stretching the field will be keys to Turner’s offense improving.
The release of Jennings was hardly a shock. At this point, he is an average starter that was being elite money. The restructure of Greenway should be expected at some point.
In short, the roster (and cap) continues to be molded for the necessities set forth by the Zimmer/Turner pairing.
It’s business, and this is business season.
FREE AGENCY POSITIONAL PREVIEWS
OFFENSE: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end |
Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center
DEFENSE: Defensive tackle | Defensive end | Outside linebacker
Inside linebacker | Safety | Cornerback
SCOUT.COM FREE AGENT RANKINGS
Position: QB RB FB WR TE OT OG C DT DE OLB MLB S CB K P LS