The Minnesota Vikings are likely coming to the end of their bigger free-agent signings, both because of needs addressed and money left.
With two probable starters signed to the offensive line and two potential starters signed on the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings have filled several needs by signing outside free agents and limited their losses by re-signing most of their own important free agents.
After signing guard Alex Boone and tackle Andre Smith on the offensive side of the ball, and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and safety Michael Griffin on the defensive side of the ball, Minnesota has upgraded or created stiff competition at four different positions this month.
In addition, they re-signed cornerback Terence Newman, who could return as a starter or create depth behind 2015 first-round pick Trae Waynes. Also re-signed were tight end Rhett Ellison (recovering from knee surgery), offensive lineman Mike Harris (who has started at right guard and right tackle the last two seasons), safety Andrew Sendejo (the starter opposite Harrison Smith at safety last year), running back Matt Asiata, linebacker Audie Cole, return man and reserve cornerback Marcus Sherels, defensive end Justin Trattou and defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis.
While all the moves in free agency have left the Vikings with fewer holes to fill in the draft, they also came at a price. Minnesota had only $11.19 million left in salary cap space on Wednesday, according to the NFL Players Association.
While that number accounted for nearly all of their free-agent activity (except tight end Brian Leonhardt), it doesn’t include Zach Line’s $1.671 million tender as a restricted free agent because he hasn’t signed that yet. During the offseason, only the top 51 salaries on a team count against the salary cap, so when Line signs his tender it will likely put the Vikings somewhere around the $10 million mark in cap space.
They will need approximately $6 million to sign their draft picks, but probably about half of that will not count against the cap because the later-round rookies won’t replace the salary of a player already counting against the top 51 players calculated in the cap, but the Vikings will also want to have a few million for in-season moves that may be needed as injury replacements.
So, with the rookie money and the extra money needed for in-season moves, the Vikings effectively have about $3 million or $4 million left for contractual moves – either signing other free agents or offering extensions.
Want to re-sign longtime starting linebacker Chad Greenway? That might cost $3 million, like Newman did. That could make it difficult to re-sign him – head coach Mike Zimmer told Pro Football Talk on Tuesday that decision was between Greenway and management – and make any other significant moves.
What about extending Harrison Smith? It would have to come at a cap-friendly deal for 2016.
Only 13 teams had less than $10 million in cap space as of Wednesday morning and the Vikings are on the verge of joining that group, but they were able to fill plenty of holes and add depth because of where they were in cap dollars prior to the start of free agency.
General manager Rick Spielman said he felt “very good” about their cap space prior to free agency.
“I think Rob (Brzezinski) does a tremendous job of giving us the flexibility that we need to do,” Spielman said. “Since I’ve been here, I don’t ever remember being in a situation where we were in cap hell and a situation where we had to release guys just for business purposes. The way Rob handles that and the way we structure our contracts, it gives us a lot of flexibility to do what we need to do.”
That will be true in the future, too, as most of the Vikings’ signings over the past month have been one-year deals with little guaranteed money.
No matter what the future holds, the conclusion remains the same for the present: The Vikings don’t have much more cap room with which to work, meaning their free-agent signings, at least the ones of significance, are just about done.