The Vikings came firing out of the gate once free agency finally opened. The team signed three new starters in less than 18 hours, adding Ben Leber at linebacker, Chester Taylor at running back and Ryan Longwell at kicker.
They followed a day later with their highly controversial offer sheet to Steve Hutchinson, which became final on March 20. The day after that became official, they inked fullback Tony Richardson, making it two more starters in two days' time.
Finally, last Thursday, the Vikings added backup quarterback Mike McMahon, backup defensive end DeQuincy Scott and starting strong safety Tank Williams.
Before free agency even started, the team signed fullback Joey Goodspeed, cornerback Ronyell Whitaker and offensive lineman Jason Whittle.
In all, Minnesota has added six starters (Hutchinson, Richardson and Taylor on offense; Leber and Williams on defense; and Longwell at kicker) and three players who figure to add depth on the game-day roster (Whittle, Scott and McMahon).
So where do those signings leave the Vikings cap-wise? It is an inexact science for anyone without the last name of Tagliabue or Brzezinski to try and figure it out. But considering the Vikings were widely believed to have about $31 million in cap space before the start of free agency, and using some educated guesses on how much the aforementioned contracts will count against the 2006 salary cap, it appears the Vikings have roughly $7 million dollars left under the salary cap.
How do we figure?
Knowing most of the bonus money and base salaries for the free agents signed, then guessing how much of the bonuses came in the form of roster bonuses, signing bonuses and reachable incentives, it appears that the Vikings used about $30 million of 2006 cap money in the contracts they signed, including the new players they inked and re-signing Koren Robinson, Willie Offord, Adam Goldberg, Adimchinobe Echemandu and Nate Burleson (still counting $712,000 against the Vikings' cap until they decline to match Seattle's heftier contract offer sheet to the wide receiver, if that is the action of choice).
But the original $31 million didn't take into account some savings the Vikings realized, either just before the start of free agency or in the first two weeks. They saved about $2.3 million against the 2006 cap by trading Daunte Culpepper, $4.4 million by removing the transition tag on Brian Williams and allowing him to sign with Jacksonville, and maybe as much as $1 million by restructuring Chris Liwienski's contract. That's a savings of almost $8 million, giving them a net of about $22 million spent (estimated $30 million spent minus estimated $8 million saved).
If these very rough estimates are close, that would leave about $9 million left in 2006 cap room (estimated $31 million before free agency minus estimated net of $22 million spent). That number will also be lowered, probably by a couple million, due to an increase in the minimum salaries under the new collective bargaining agreement, meaning the Vikings might only be about $7 million under the 2006 cap.
However, the Vikings will also need about $4 million dollars allocated to sign their rookie draft picks, leaving an estimated $3 million.
That money, if an accurate amount, might be used either with any June 1 cap casualties that would intrigue the Vikings or by reaching contract extensions with players like Bryant McKinnie, Darrion Scott or E.J. Henderson after seeing how they perform under defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin's system in the first few months of the season. All three of those players could be eligible for free agency at the end of 2006, although Scott is expected to be a restricted free agent.
On defense, the Vikings could still use some depth at cornerback and a future replacement for Darren Sharper at free safety. The other needs on that side of the ball will have to be determined after seeing how new acquisitions and the new system meld together.
On offense, there is never enough depth on the offensive line, the quarterback position is still shaky and receiver depth could be needed if/when Burleson is lost to the Seahawks.
The good news for the Vikings is that they have addressed their most pressing needs — and a lot of them — already in free agency, leaving the possibilities in the draft wide open.
New owner Zygi Wilf said that money wouldn't stand in the way of him building a championship roster, and the amount of money he's put forth in the 2006 version of free agency proves that.
• Signed former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mike McMahon to a two-year, $2 million contract, including a $400,000 signing bonus.
• Signed former Tennessee Titans safety Tank Williams to a one-year contract worth $900,000, including incentives.
• Signed former San Diego Chargers defensive end DeQuincy Scott. Terms unknown.
• Signed former Kansas City Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson to a two-year, $2.5 million contract that includes a $500,000 roster bonus.
• Signed former Seattle Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson to a seven-year, $49 million contract that includes $16 million in guarantees.
• Signed former Baltimore Ravens running back Chester Taylor to a four-year, $14.1 million contract that includes $5.6 million in guarantees, including roster and signing bonuses.
• Signed former San Diego Chargers linebacker Ben Leber to a five-year, $20 million contract, including a $4 million signing bonus.
• Signed former Green Bay Packers kicker Ryan Longwell to a five-year, $10 million contract, including a $3 million signing bonus.
• Signed former New York Giants guard/center Jason Whittle to a one-year, $695,000 contract.
• Re-signed safety Willie Offord to a two-year contract worth up to $3 million with incentives with the Vikings.
• Re-signed Koren Robinson to a three-year, $12.7 million contract with $5.5 million guaranteed with the Vikings.
• Could lose WR Nate Burleson, who signed a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet, including $5.25 million in guarantees, with the Seattle Seahawks.
• RB Michael Bennett signed a two-year, $3 million contract, including a $1 million signing bonus, with the New Orleans Saints.
• Safety Corey Chavous signed a five-year, $16 million contract, including a $4 million signing bonus, with the St. Louis Rams.
• LB Sam Cowart signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract, including a $710,000 signing bonus.
• Guard Toniu Fonoti signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
• Center Melvin Fowler signed a three-year, $7.2 million contract with the Buffalo Bills.
• CB Brian Williams signed a six-year, $34 million contract, including a $10 million signing bonus, with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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