Creative Contracts Help Future Cap Hits

The Vikings were busy signing players to multi-year deals at the outset of free agency, but thanks to the art of the roster bonus they aren't mortgaging their long-term future to improve their short-term outlook. See how their multi-year contracts were structured.

The Vikings have once again been working their advantageous salary-cap position to their favor, not only for the present signing period but also setting the table for the future.

A number of their more recent free-agent signings inked only one-year contracts, but for the initial flurry of free agency, when the Vikings dug deep for multi-year, big-money signings, they made an effort to minimize the effects of those contract in future years by putting more of the bonus (guaranteed) money into the initial year of the contract.

It is a practice that is becoming more common around the league with teams that find themselves with plenty of money under this year's salary cap and want to ensure they are in a good position in future years.

For the Vikings, that held especially true in their first four free-agent signings.

Wide receiver Bernard Berrian, the third signing during a busy opening weekend of free agency, agreed to a six-year, $42 million contract that had $16 million in guarantees. While Berrian's $5 million signing bonus is spread out evenly over the length of the contract ($833,000 per year), he will receive significant roster bonuses in the first two years of the contract – $8 million in 2008 and $3 million in 2009.

While Berrian's base salary escalates from $605,000 in 2008 to $2.4 million in 2009 and $3.7 million, $3.9 million, $6.9 million and $7.9 million during the final years of the contract, the bonus money is what's most important in contracts these days – and Berrian has plenty of that in the first two years of his contract.

Safety Madieu Williams has a six-year, $33 million contract structured similarly. Like Berrian, Williams' $4 million signing bonus is spread out pretty evenly, with about $667,000 counting against the salary cap each year. And, like Berrian, his base salaries – the unguaranteed portion of the contract – slowly rise. He starts at $605,000 in 2008, $620,000 in 2009 and then $2.975 million in 2010 and $5.4 million in the final three years of the contract.

But, also like Berrian, Williams' contract calls for $4 million roster bonuses in each of the first two years of his contract.

While fullback Thomas Tapeh didn't get nearly the money of Williams and Berrian, even his five-year, $6 million contract was front-loaded to eat up cap space this year and save it in future years. He has base salaries of $605,000 in 2008, $620,000 in 2009, $1.025 million in 2010 and then $1.15 million each in the final two years. His $500,000 signing bonus was also spread out evenly over the life of the deal, but he received a one-time, $700,000 roster bonus this season only, making his biggest cap hit ($1.455 million) occur in 2008.

Three days after inking Berrian, the Vikings signed backup running back/kick returner Maurice Hicks to a three-year contract. Hicks' base salaries are a relatively modest $605,000, $1.1 million and $1.4 million, and he received a $450,000 signing bonus. But the roster bonus clause followed the other free agents who signed before him, as he received a $750,000 bonus for the 2008 seasons. That turned his cap hits into $1.5 million in 2008, $1.35 million in 2009 and $1.65 million in 2010.

The Vikings continued their efforts after those initial signings with other complementary players, inking linebackers Dallas Sartz and Derrick Pope to one-year deals. Also receiving one-year contracts were defensive lineman Ellis Wyms, wide receiver Robert Ferguson, safety Michael Boulware and defensive lineman Kenderick Allen.

But for those players who signed multi-year deals, the Vikings made sure that roster bonuses were weighing heavily on the 2008 salary cap because the team entered the free-agent signing period with more than $36 million in cap space thanks to creative cap management in past years. So, despite their solid plunge into free agency in 2008, the Vikings' cap situation for future years should still allow them to make the moves necessary to continue upgrading their roster.

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