Vikings Cap Woes Getting Better

When Mike Tice took over as head coach of the Vikings, he told VU he was surprised at the team's salary cap shape -- saying it was better than he thought. He's right, as the Vikings continue to repair the damage from their 1998 success.

Teams make choices when it comes to the salary cap. As VU columnist Adrian Hallsey has pointed out before, the realistic window of winning a Super Bowl with the same team has been reduced down to about four years -- at some point, everyone's contract comes up and either the team lets key players go away or they sign them all and pay the piper in years to come.

Dallas and San Francisco both paid the price for this in recent years and the Jaguars and Vikings have been paying in over the last couple of seasons.

In his defense, Jeff Diamond realized in the Vikings' 15-1 season of 1998 that he had the ingredients for a Super Bowl team, so he spent freely to keep component parts like John Randle, Korey Stringer, Todd Steussie, Robert Griffith, Ed McDaniel, Robert Smith, Randall Cunningham and even David Palmer to assure that the Vikings wouldn't be dismantled before they could make a Super Bowl run. As everyone knows, the team has been paying for that move since and never saw the Big Dance.

However, that is changing. A year ago, the Vikings were $20 million over the salary cap at this point -- second among all NFL teams. Right now, the Vikings are just $6.3 million over the cap and, with Cunningham finally going off the books, with releases of players like Ed McDaniel, Cris Carter and Lance Johnstone and the expected restructuring of Robert Griffith -- a free agent who still technically has a contract -- the Vikings will be well under the projected cap.

That is why Tice can say with impunity that the Vikings will be able to re-sign any and all free agents they want and perhaps even dip into the free agent market for a bargain here and there.

While the Vikings' situation is improving, the price of success has hurt other teams as well. Six teams entered Valentine's Day in deep cap troubles and they all share one commonality -- multiple playoff teams over the past few years. Jacksonville is in the worst shape -- currently $27.7 million over the cap -- followed by Baltimore ($22.5 million over), Tennessee ($22.5 million), Oakland ($19.9 million), N.Y. Jets ($19.4 million) and Miami ($16.9 million).

It seems success breeds cap problems and, while the Vikings are still a year away from being in good cap shape, the situation is getting better -- by baby steps.

FRIDAY NOTES
* The Tampa Bay joke of a head coaching search had better kick things into high gear if they want to get a current NFL assistant as their head coach. Teams have only until Feb. 28 to hire an assistant coach away from another NFL team. As of March 1, teams can't touch a coach from another coaching staff, so the joke isn't getting so funny anymore -- as time is running out for NFL coaches and college coaches are getting deep into recruiting mode which could take the top names off the board as well.
* Why does Detroit suck so bad? It starts at the top. Wayne Fontes gives Scott Mitchell a huge contract and gets fired. New coach Bobby Ross hates Mitchell and lets him go, eating his contract and starting over with Charlie Batch. He likes Batch and sees that he gets a huge contract. Ross gets fired and Marty Mornhinweg comes in and...guess what? He hates Batch. VU has been told by a Lions source that Batch will get released June 1 if he isn't taken by Houston in the expansion draft and, armed with that knowledge, why would the Texans want to pick up his full contract when they can probably get him for pennies on the dollar June 1. In the new four-team divisions, it once again looks like the Vikes will only have to deal with Chicago and Green Bay as we keep hearing Paul Tagliabue in full throat very early in the coming rookie drafts saying, "Detroit is on the clock."
* The NFL could find itself in court if it refuses to hold up its longstanding rule about blackouts of games that don't sell out. Thursday, the Washington State Legislature, citing that the citizens of Washington paid $300 million for a new stadium, adopted a law saying that no games will be blacked out. This could be a problem with the NFL since none of Seattle's games sold out last year and the league has had a rule in place for almost 30 years saying if a game isn't sold out 72 hours before game time, it will be blacked out to any homes within 75 miles of the stadium. Expect the NFL to appeal the law in court.
* The Vikings expect to bring in competition for Gary Anderson and not the usual who-dat? generic competition. Anderson, a free agent, will be invited back if he doesn't sign with another team, but the Vikes will also bring in a veteran to compete for the job. It's a good thing Dennis Green isn't still coach in this situation. With both Anderson and Morten Andersen -- a kicker who for some reason terrified Green much in the same way punt returner Desmond Howard required a Green laundry change -- it would be exciting indeed to see two guys born in the 1950s fighting it out for an NFL job in 2002.

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