Vikings Have Cap Room, But Do They Have Need?

The Vikings have put themselves in a great situation for the salary cap, so what is their plan for the next phase of free agency, the June 1 cuts?

Vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski could be considered the team's MVP before the 2004 season even starts. Besides reloading Mike Tice's arsenal with more talent than the organization has seen in years, Brzezinski, assistant Dave Blando and staff have put the Vikings in the best salary cap position of any team in the NFL.

How have they done it? First, the team didn't spend outrageously to secure mid-level free agents. They gave tight end Jim Kleinsasser, a player they felt was very valuable to their success, a five-year, $15 million deal before the cash-rich Washington Redskins could make a play for him. They paid a fair price for Marcus Robinson, but because Baltimore thought it would end up with Terrell Owens at the time, it didn't offer much resistance to Robinson signing elsewhere. The result was a four-year, $9.4 million contract for a very good player when healthy.

They also made a wily move with top-level cornerback Antoine Winfield when they gave him a $10.8 million roster bonus instead of a signing bonus. That allowed the team to move all of his bonus money into this year and not be a detriment to future seasons under the salary cap.

So now the Vikings are sitting on what most believe is a more talented team than last year with $13.5 million under the salary cap as they approach another phase of free agency — the June 1 cuts. The next closest team is New Orleans with $11.3 in available cap space.

But just because the Vikings have cap room to spare, don't expect them to spend money just because it is available.

"We're going to keep our eyes open on that market, but we feel pretty good about our team and where it is now," Brzezinski said. "We're not actively looking to add anybody. If something comes available that could help us, we'd do something. We're not really counting on that market to add to the team.

"All those guys are on the street for a reason. A lot of times you can get the right guy for the right price, but I think more often than not those guys don't help you."

The case in point would be Derrick Alexander, who signed with the Vikings after becoming a June 1 cap casualty and offered virtually nothing — 14 catches in 2002 — to the Vikings after two training camps filled with injury and unfulfilled promise.

"The reason a guy is on the street is that he isn't performing, but sometimes you can get lucky," Brzezinski said. "Guys that are making those marquee dollars, once they get cut they always fall down in the market between where they should be and where they were. You are still always overpaying those guys."

The position the Vikings might look at is linebacker because of the youth at that position. They could head into training camp with Chris Claiborne, E.J. Henderson and either Dontarrious Thomas or Mike Nattiel as starters, but each of those players has issues.

Claiborne struggled with injuries for much of the season, eventually being made inactive for four of the final five games after a strong first half. E.J. Henderson, while looking like a true talent at middle linebacker, hasn't started a game in the NFL, and the same is true with Thomas and Nattiel.

The Vikings released one of their more experienced linebackers, Henri Crockett, along with fullback Charles Stackhouse, earlier this month, but those moves weren't cost-saving measures. They simply didn't fit into the team's plans.

It remains to be seen if any veterans are released from other teams after June 1 whom the Vikings would deem as good fits for their plans.

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