In a previous column, the Minnesota Vikings received plaudits for their quick response to free agency, a response that netted the team cornerback Madieu Williams, wide-receiver Bernard Berrian, and full-back Thomas Tapeh. At the time, the Vikings still had defensive end Justin Smith in their sights, with defensive end Atwan Odom also still an option.
A cursory tally of Williams', Berrian's, and Tapeh's cap numbers suggested that, despite salaries inflated by limited free-agency talent and generous cap space for nearly every NFL team, the Vikings did reasonably well by signing their free-agent targets to cap-acceptable terms. The initial count suggested that the Vikings were committed to approximately $14.5 million in cap space for 2008 and for the next several seasons.
Last week, the Vikings revealed the terms of Berrian's contract, noting, in particular, that Berrian's guaranteed money--the money that tends to more greatly affect a team's salary cap over the long run--was, to a large extent, brought forward to 2008 and 2009 by including in Berrian's contract two roster bonuses worth $8 million and $3 million, respectively.
Berrian's 2008 roster bonus means that his cap figure for 2008 will be approximately $9.5 million, not including incentives. It also means that, after 2009, the Vikings will have a highly manageable cap figure with which to work when dealing with Berrian.
Entering free agency, the Vikings were approximately $24 million under the 2008 salary cap. Following the release of Dwight Smith and the trade of Troy Williamson, the team picked up an additional $5-6 million in cap space, before accounting for unearned LTBEs.
Estimates are now circulating of the Vikings having approximately $37 million in cap space in 2008, prior to any free-agent signings. After deducting the cap figures for Berrian, Williams, and Tapeh, that number shrinks to approximately $21 million.
The NFL salary cap in 2008 is $116 with a salary cap floor of $100.2 million. Under league rules, each team must commit at least to the salary cap floor or forfeit the difference. At present, the Vikings remain approximately $5 million below this floor.
The Vikings have several options for meeting the league's salary cap requirements. One option is to sign additional players. A second option is to re-work existing contracts, bringing forward cap space to 2008, thereby creating additional cap space for future years. A third option is to re-work existing contracts to include farcical, albeit league-approved, LTBEs.
The Vikings are widely regarded across the NFL as being among the leaders in probing the limits of LTBEs and there is little reason to believe that, after committing heavily to LTBE-laden contracts in each of Zygi' Wilf's first three seasons as owner of the team that the team will act any differently this season.
Even with LTBEs, however, the Vikings have a substantial amount of cap room remaining in 2008 and will find it difficult to justifying to the fan base the use of LTBEs when deficiencies remain on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Moreover, as the team battles to gain legislative support for a new stadium, spending to the league cap floor probably will not be the right signal to send. Much more likely will be required.
That leaves only free-agency, a route available to the Vikings had they elected to bid on some of the available defensive ends, and re-structuring. The latter is no more palatable to the fan base than is the use of LTBEs except that it brings forth actual dollars rather than dollars merely floated from year to year under the guise of LTBEs. And the former, at this stage in the process, appears no longer to be available.
And that could leave the Vikings in a bind, despite the gains that they made in free agency.
Up Next: Trade Options? Plus, the NFL entry draft.