Saturday, March 01, 2008

Going Big

The Minnesota Vikings opened the 2008 free-agency period by signing former Cincinnati Bengals' starting safety Madieu Williams and former Philadelphia Eagle and University of Minnesota fullback Thomas Tapeh. Yesterday, the Vikings added to their list of free-agent signees, inking former Chicago Bears' wide-receiver Bernard Berrian.

The Vikings signed Williams to a six-year deal worth $33 million, with $13 million in guaranteed money. Tapeh will earn approximately $1 million per season with approximately the same amount in guaranteed money. The Williams and Tapeh deals put the Vikings on the hook for roughly $6.5 million in cap space over each of the next six years--not a major concern given that Madieu is young and plays a position at which career longevity is among the highest in the NFL, while Tapeh's numbers, even if accelerated to this year, are relatively marginal.

While Williams and Tapeh had decent paydays--perhaps less so for Tapeh who should be questioning his agent's negotiating acumen given the contract that Visanthe Shiancoe's agent wrangled out of the Vikings last year for a player far less integral to the team's offense--Berrian is far and away the greatest beneficiary of need meeting cap space in this year's NFL free agency period.

With a six year deal worth $42 million and $16 million in guaranteed money, Berrian will cost the Vikings roughly $7 million in cap space over each of the next six seasons. That's approaching Terrell Owens ($9.6), Marvin Harrison ($8.4), Torry Holt ($7.7), and Chad Johnson ($7.6) money for 2007 and easily bests the 2007 cap figures for Reggie Wayne ($5.9) and Larry Fitzgerald ($5.4). And it raises the issue of whether the Vikings received value for their money.

The short answer is that it depends. If the Vikings have sufficient LTBEs added to their 2008 cap, they could re-work their deal(s) with Berrian and/or Williams to bring forward bonus money to 2008 in the form of roster, rather than signing bonuses. That would make the big paydays less daunting over time and put less of a premium on Berrian and Williams being long-term solutions at their respective positions.

If, however, the Vikings are pushed up against the cap this season without the benefit of accelerating any bonuses, that could leave the Vikings with a small window of opportunity to cash in on their 2008 free-agent signings, a window that likely would close with the expected departures of Pat Williams and Antoine Winfield, and the probable retirement of Matt Birk, within the next two years. That small window of opportunity will look even smaller if the quarterback situation does not clarify prior to the 2008 season.

The difficulty for the Vikings, of course, is that the organization had no alternative but to bolster the roster in free agency and to over-pay to do so. With numerous teams possessing much healthier cap lines than did the Vikings, the Vikings were forced to make their best offer early. They did just that and they signed players that they absolutely needed to fill positions that they were unlikely to be able to fill in the draft. The result has been one of the Vikings' most productive free-agency periods in some time--with the caveat that it may need to pay very large dividends in the short term.

Up Next: More Free Agency.

2 comments:

Ryan said...

VG, I'd agree in that this was a significantly more productive FA period for the Vikes compared to last year. There's little doubt we overpaid Berrian and Madieu but as you said, the Vikings had little choice in the matter.

My concern now is how they plan on filling two large voids at defensive end and saftey depth. Keeping Tank Williams on the team seemed very logical considering his age, experience and his surprisingly solid play in limited action in this past season. But he's left for NE.

To me it looks as though the Vikings have put themselves into a position where they now must draft for need instead of taking "the best player available"; A situation that almost always leads to bad draft decisions.

Vikes Geek said...

Ryan,

It's not clear what the Vikings are doing. They have a huge hole at defensive end and still need an offensive tackle and cornerback. They could have had each in free agency but now must settle for the draft. More on this in the next column.

VG