Vikings’ free-agent frugality may be wise

The Vikings have been one of the lowest spending teams in free agency this year, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Free agency has been open for more than a month and few teams have spent less money than the Vikings. To date they’ve signed 13 players in free agency, but have spent just $15.56 million on them.

Considering that they saved millions by trading Matt Cassell, releasing Greg Jennings (a salary that was basically offset by the trade for Mike Wallace) and restructuring Chad Greenway, it could be argued that the Vikings have just about as much available money now ($12.3 million) under the salary cap as they had when free agency began in early March.

The Vikings have been among the lowest teams in terms of free agent spending this offseason. Only four teams have spent less on free agents – Pittsburgh at $9.25 million, Detroit at $10.3 million, Baltimore at $11.9 million and Seattle at $14.6 million.

The disparity in what teams have spent this offseason has been incredible. Five teams have spent more than $42 million in free agency, which may be cause for concern for the New England Patriots since three of them are from the AFC East. It can be argued that teams that haven’t been successful have to spend (or overspend) to get free agents to agree to sign.

The top five so far are Oakland at $48.3 million, Jacksonville at $45.7 million, Buffalo at $43.7 million, Miami at $42.9 million and the New York Jets at $42.5, all almost three times more than the Vikings and five times more than the Steelers. In some cases, however, those teams had to spend big to get to the minimum spending level required by the collective bargaining agreement.

When you look at the teams at the bottom of the spending list, they seem to share one thing in common – they are known for developing their own players and often don’t make huge outside free agent signings and, in the case of the Seahawks, Steelers and Ravens, all of them have a lot of players they developed that are the proud owners of Super Bowl rings.

On the flip side, when you look at the highest spending teams, none of them have won a division title and all of them are from the AFC.

Miami has won one division title since 2001 (in 2008). The Jets haven’t won a division title since 2002 – the first year after the NFL went from three to four divisions in each conference.

Ironically, the last time the Raiders won a division title was also in 2002. In the 12 years since, Denver and San Diego have each won the AFC West five times and Kansas City has won twice.

Jacksonville hasn’t won a division title since 1999, when they were in the infamous six-team AFC Central at a time when there was a four-team divisions in the NFC.

Worst of all, Buffalo hasn’t won a title since 1993 – before some of the first-round picks being made later this month were even born. Buffalo was dominant in the era leading up to that division title, but it has been a long, dry 22-year run without tasting the champagne of being a champion – even a division champion.

The difference between what teams spend in free agency or don’t spend often varies from year to year, but one thing seems to remain consistent. It’s typically teams that haven’t built a strong core that spend a lot to bring in other people’s players. Those who re-invest in their own players don’t typically spend a lot in free agency. The Steelers, Ravens and Seahawks don’t have to make any apologies.

The Vikings and Lions believe they have what it takes to get to the top of the NFC North hill without bringing in big-name outsiders.

The five at the top of the list? Three teams that hate Bill Belichick and the two teams that don’t sell out home games.

The Vikings may be coming off as playing free agency on the cheap, but there may well be a method to their madness – as well as the other non-spenders. They may be on to something.

SATURDAY NOTES
  • As much as the Raiders have spent, they still have enough money to get involved in the alleged Adrian Peterson Sweepstakes, which officially opened Friday. The teams most closely linked to a potential trade of A.P. – if the Vikings are convinced they can’t reach a mutual agreement to kiss and make up – have always been Dallas and Arizona. Now Oakland has reared its ugly black-and-silver face-painted head into the mix. Considering how often they blow first-round draft picks, maybe A.P. and the 11th pick are worth moving up to No. 4 and a second-rounder. Just sayin’.

  • Former Viking Chris Doleman will be present for an awards ceremony co-sponsored by the U.S. Army and the Pro Football Hall of Fame to honor the country’s elite student-athletes. Doleman will appear at Chapel Hill High School in Atlanta to honor local athlete Daryl Mitchell in a ceremony on Tuesday.

  • Eight years ago today, the Vikings thought they had found the next big thing in wide receiver Todd Lowber. A college high jumper, Lowber ran a sub-4.2 40 at a local Combine in New Jersey and a Vikings scout went all-in on his recommendation. Lowber arrived April 18, 2007 and the Vikings learned that Troy Williamson no longer had the worst hand-eye coordination on the team. Happy anniversary, Todd!

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