Before Rick Spielman and other Minnesota Vikings brass under his direction entered the stress of the three-day negotiating window in advance of NFL free agency starting on March 9, Spielman reflected on past periods of the frenzy caused by free agency.
The Vikings, like every other team, prepare a plan that includes preferred targets and financial parameters for those targets. But after figuring out the market – or even the perceived market – even the best-laid plans sometimes go asunder with stunning quickness.
The Vikings enter free agency knowing the history of what the top players at a certain position are getting paid, but oftentimes the market rises drastically with the salary cap and certain players are able to take advantage of a feeding frenzy.
“Sometimes you can go in and have a plan, but you don’t control what happens, either. The market goes way out of whack where it’s overinflated and you don’t think there’s value there for what you’re going to have to pay,” Spielman said last week. “… You just go into this having a specific plan in place, but also have Plan B and C in place if Plan A doesn’t go through.”
At times, Plan B is that the team ends up going beyond what it initially figured it would have to pay for a top free agent. Other times, they surrender as the bidding gets beyond the Vikings’ comfort level.
In each case, there can be early-morning regrets and second-guesses.
“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], did we do the right thing, 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. I think you have to go in knowing where your limitations are, but also having the flexibility to adjust to where these market prices could potentially go.”
You get the feeling the Vikings might have had regrets about signing Bernard Berrian to a massive contract before Spielman was officially the general manager, or Greg Jennings after Spielman was clearly in charge. Surely, there have been other instances where they backed off a free agent as the price escalated and ended up regretting that decision, too.
Other times, like when they put the full-court press on Antoine Winfield and sent a private jet to pluck him out of the offices of the New York Jets, the aggression paid off.
“You try to make comparisons all the time in this league – well, OK, the top 10 tight ends in the league, this is what they make,” Spielman said. “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 believe I’m paying that player,’ but in reality it’s what the market is paying.”
No team bats a thousand in free agency, and there are annual reminders that the biggest winners in free agency aren’t usually the big winners in the postseason. Yet, those can be the market-setting teams.
The Vikings enter free agency with more than $37 million under the salary cap.
“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,” Spielman said. “But I still think we have to be patient and you have to be smart and not hit the panic button. 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, it doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end.”