The Vikings wrap up their organized team activities (OTAs) for the offseason this week, with many of the players heading for some quick time off before reporting on July 23 to the heat and hard times of training camp.
But since the team's offseason conditioning program began in mid-March, players have been attending workouts in droves – whether it was the early weightlifting and conditioning mornings three months ago, the OTAs that have been taking place sporadically since the draft or the rookie or full-squad minicamp. You might think the players would want a break like the NFL players of three decades ago, whose last game of the season was often the last time they saw their head coach until training camp.
So why have the 2008 Vikings been showing up with about 95 percent attendance or better during more than a dozen days of OTAs, minicamps and conditioning programs? Technically, most of the sessions except for minicamp are voluntary. Sure, the coaches want the players there, but their labor agreement says they don't have to attend.
The answer for the big attendance most likely lies in the fact that some of today's players earn more money in their workout bonuses than players of 25 years ago made in a single season and more than the average American makes for a year's worth of 40-hour-a-week appearances.
The Vikings have been writing workout bonuses into the contracts of players lately, usually stipulating a certain percentage of conditioning sessions or OTAs that must be attended to reap the financial promises.
Many of the players on the lower level of the roster receive only about $7,000 of workout bonus. Their greater incentive is simply show up and improve or at least maintain their standing on the roster.
For others whose starting spots are secure, the financial incentive to show up for offseason workouts or practices is much greater. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who signed a contract extension in 2007, has a $500,000 workout bonus per year written into his contract – and that is easily the largest one on the team.
Even Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson, who made NFL history when he signed a seven-year, $49 million contract with the Vikings in 2006, has a comparatively low workout bonus at $50,000 per season. Another offensive lineman, Bryant McKinnie, who signed an extension with the team six months after Hutchinson's blockbuster deal, is second on the team in terms of workout bonus money and still half of Williams' deal at $250,000 per season.
Antoine Winfield, who skipped voluntary workouts last year when he was dissatisfied with some of the personnel moves – a situation he says has been remedied with their free-agent moves this offseason – represents workout bonus equal to that of a few other solid starters with at $100,000 per year. That's the same figure as players like defensive tackle Pat Williams, guard Anthony Herrera, safety Madieu Williams, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, safety Darren Sharper, tight end Jim Kleinsasser and linebacker E.J. Henderson.
Like Winfield last year, Pro Bowl center Matt Birk skipped the team's voluntary workouts this year before attending the mandatory minicamp. In Birk's case, however, the financial incentive of a workout bonus paled in comparison to his regular salary – or even compared to the workout bonuses of first-year players just trying to make the team. While head coach Brad Childress pointed out in March that Birk has one of the longest-running contracts in the NFL at eight years, since his deal was renegotiated in 2001 before Childress arrived on the scene and big workout bonuses were en vogue, Birk has hardly any money allocated to workout bonuses. He was scheduled to make the most workout bonus money of his contract this year, but that was only a bit more than $6,000 – hardly much of an incentive when he is scheduled to make $5.32 million in base salary and just over $6 million in salary-cap dollars this year.
So while the Vikings' high attendance at offseason workouts could help the team's mission in 2008, a number of players had substantial financial incentives to attend the practices as well.
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