The Minnesota Vikings will again enter NFL free agency with a cautious approach.
Yes, they’ve made their share of high-dollar signings over the past decade, but under general manager Rick Spielman the roster-building strategy has further steered toward drafting and developing. Most of their money is spent on their own players.
When the market opens Wednesday afternoon with the new league year, the Vikings have the salary-cap space to be competitive.
They cleared an additional $11.5 million Tuesday by releasing wide receiver Mike Wallace. Team officials, though, have again spoken warily about the allure of free agency.
“All those draft picks now we’ve been able to accumulate, and with the coaching staff and how they develop young players, that’s starting to show up on the field,” Spielman said last month.
“If you can continue to layer year in and year out and do a good job in the draft, I’d rather look to extend those guys in their second contracts than go out and do free agency. But there’s always a player here or there you may dabble in the free agent market.”
That philosophy comes with ownership endorsement.
“We are not going to make a splash just to make a splash, but if it can make our team better we will do what we have to do,” Vikings President Mark Wilf said.
“We have told the football guys they have our backing and the resources to do whatever they need to do and what they feel is best to get us a winner.”
Coach Mike Zimmer has long expressed a preference for players he’s familiar with, and a pair of safeties he coached with the Cincinnati Bengals, George Iloka and Reggie Nelson, were conveniently about to become unrestricted free agents (Iloka is reportedly close to re-signing with the Bengals).
The offensive line is another area that could make sense for the Vikings to upgrade on the open market, but one of their targets, former Baltimore Ravens left tackle Kelechi Osemele, agreed Tuesday to a megadeal with the Oakland Raiders.
The Vikings must fully guarantee left tackle Matt Kalil’s $11.096 million salary if he remains on the roster Wednesday past the market-opening bell, but given the difficulty of securing that position they’re on track to make him their most expensive player in 2016 despite his spotty performance.
“There’s nothing from the physical standpoint that I think he can’t do,” Spielman said. “I think he still could be a solid left tackle in this league, and he’s just got to continue to work on his consistency.”
The Vikings have, according to multiple reports, reached a pay-cut agreement with right tackle Phil Loadholt to reduce his salary cap hit from $7.75 million to $2 million for the remaining year of his contract.
The Vikings retained another one of their players Tuesday by re-signing backup linebacker Audie Cole to a one-year contract, after a broken right ankle cut short his 2015 season.
They’ve kept strong safety Andrew Sendejo, wide receiver Adam Thielen, defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis and offensive tackle Carter Bykowski off the market with new deals and placed a tender on restricted free agent fullback Zach Line as a step toward bringing him back.
Of their 11 other players set to become unrestricted free agents, running back Matt Asiata, tight end Rhett Ellison, right guard Mike Harris and punt returner Marcus Sherels figure to be on the priority list.
Zimmer said at the NFL Scouting Combine last month that he believes Greenway will be back. He said he’d like to have Newman again, too, if he wants to return to Minnesota.
“If you know them the best,” Spielman said, “it’s the safest investment.”