While the Minnesota Vikings have continued to clear cap space this week by not picking up the option on Adrian Peterson’s contract, the Vikings are still last in the NFC North in cap room and total cap available to them.
The NFL Players Association announced on Wednesday that the cap will be $167 million for each NFL team, but that doesn’t take into account the amount of rollover space available to teams from unused cap space in 2016. The Vikings had only $400,000 to roll over into their 2017 cap while others in the NFC North had significantly more.
With $167.4 million in total available dollars for Minnesota in 2017, only the Los Angeles Rams have less in the NFC and only the Los Angeles Chargers have less in the AFC. In the NFC North, the Chicago Bears lead the way with $175.1 million, followed by the Green Bay Packers at $174.9 million and the Detroit Lions at $171.7 million.
However, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman believes the team has room to be aggressive enough when free agency opens on March 9.
“I think we can go out and attack some of this. We have the flexibility to do that with the monies we’ve been clearing up, what we’ve cleared up over the last couple weeks. But I still think we have to be patient and you have to be smart and not hit the panic button,” Spielman said Wednesday. “We don’t have an opening-season game a week from now. There’s plenty of time between now and the draft, even potential trades before the season. There’s a lot of ways you still have time, where if you don’t come out of the gate and having something done by Thursday or Friday [next week], it doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end.”
After clearing more $3 million with the release of Brandon Fusco and $18 million by declining to exercise the 2017 option year on Peterson’s contract, the Vikings currently have about $38 million in unused cap space.
However, they may not spend even close to that in free agency because Spielman knows there will be some big extensions to consider in the near future for players like Xavier Rhodes – whom Spielman listed as “probably” the next big contract due – Sam Bradford, Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen.
“We’ve always tried to plan at least two or three years out ahead, knowing what you have coming up as well, what we have to do to address those needs this year and what we can afford financially and how we have to structure our contracts,” Spielman said. “There’s a specific business principal that we’re pretty consistent with in how we structure out contracts. It gives us the flexibility to hopefully accomplish what we can.”
The Vikings, like every NFL team, have benefited by the league’s ability to keep generating record profits. Since 2011, the salary cap has increased by $47 million and it has gone up by $10 million or more four consecutive years. However, that also creates more cap space for other teams that already have more space than the Vikings.
“You try to make comparisons all the time in this league – OK, the top 10 tight ends in the league, this is what they make. Now all the sudden you come in here and there’s teams that have eight gazillion dollars so all the sudden the market is shifting and you’re [saying], ‘Man, I can’t believing I’m paying that player,’ but in reality it’s what the market is paying,” Spielman said.
Despite having money to spend, the Vikings have to be cautious about going overboard in free agency, instead looking to strike a balance between being too aggressive and too passive when looking at signing outside free agents.
The second-guessing isn’t always exclusive to outside the wall of Winter Park.
“There have been times we’ve been in free agency and we’re sitting there as you’re going through this negotiation period, especially when you’ve had that window and we’re there until 1 or 2 in the morning,” Spielman said. “Sometimes we’ll pull the trigger and you’re staring at the ceiling [wondering] was it too much. Or we pulled back and said, ‘Well, should we have kept going.’ Those are the things that you have to weigh.”