So what's going on? Why hasn't the team made any big splashes in free agency in an attempt to shore up areas of concern after their first playoff berth of the Brad Childress era?
The Vikings made a serious attempt at the top free-agent wide receiver on the board for the second year in a row. After landing Bernard Berrian in 2008, the Vikings brought in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and made every attempt to lock him up before he elected to sign a five-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks, likely a longer deal than the Vikings were willing to offer.
Still, the Vikings have insisted in the past months that money from the Wilf ownership group won't be – and hasn't been – an issue in pursuing free agents. The real issue is that the free-agent market just wasn't that strong this year, especially at positions of need.
"The Wilfs are committed from the football end to try to put the best product out on the field and everybody's ultimate goal is to get to the Super Bowl," Rick Spielman, vice president of player personnel, said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "They will always make a commitment – if there's someone out there that is unique that we feel that strongly about that can make a difference on this football team and it's a smart decision – that they will always be there for us from a financial standpoint. And it's great to have an ownership, even with our stadium revenues being as low as it is and the way the economic times are, it just shows the commitment our ownership has to the Minnesota Vikings and to all our fans of putting the best product on the field we possibly can."
Since Houshmandzadeh's visit, however, there hasn't been a player with which the team has put on the all-out blitz. They have signed cornerback Karl Paymah and wide receiver Glenn Holt, but neither of them is expected to provide anything more than depth at their respective positions.
The Vikings are believed to have about $20 million left under the salary cap, according to a league source, as of this week. That means they have dedicated about $107 million in player salaries this year. The salary cap is $127 million; the floor that teams are required to reach is $111 million.
With what the Vikings have spent already – and likely being allocated somewhere around $4 million to sign their rookies after the draft – they could easily reach the team salary minimum without signing another player. That's not likely to happen, but several converging factors have to be entering into the minds of any team's decision-makers: 1) the uncertain nature of the economy; 2) the potential for a lockout in 2011, and; 3) the potential for no salary cap after the 2010 season.
Former Vikings safety Darren Sharper, who was the team's player rep for the NFL Players Association and just signed with the Saints on Wednesday, talked about the potential for no salary cap in 2010 if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reach in the next year.
"That disaster can work both ways. We can be similar to baseball, in which one team can just buy up everyone and then you have the guys that cannot afford to do that that can struggle. And that's why we have the attitude that we don't necessarily want it to come to that," Sharper told Sirius NFL Radio on Wednesday. "Now if that's a decision that the owners make, then that's the decision they're going to have to live with. But at the end of the day, this is something that we all know, is that the owners aren't doing too bad. If they have an average of a billion dollars that each team is worth – on average now, you have your highs and you've got your lows – but on average each team is worth a billion dollars. … In hindsight, in saying that you want to say that the players and the union will need to give money back, but we understand that the owners are doing alright. So we need to work together and see how we can keep this thing going so that we don't have a lockout so there's not an uncapped year."
"… I don't think the owners truly want it to happen and I know the players truly do not want it to happen. So there's always a sense of urgency."