On Friday, assuming the accuracy of current reports, the Minnesota Vikings will finalize a deal that will bring veteran Washington quarterback Donovan McNabb to Minnesota just as the team bids adieu to wide-receiver Sidney Rice. Most in the media are reporting that this is the type of trade-off that the Vikings will need to accept to change their roster this year.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Since Zygi Wilf and company purchased the Minnesota Vikings from Red McCombs for approximately $625 million, ceding McCombs an undeserved profit of nearly $400 million, Wilf has made clear his intention of spending to the salary cap each year in the hope of garnering support for a publicly funded stadium. Those paid by the Vikings to cover the team, and even those whose careers are merely inextricably tied to the fortunes of the Vikings, pointed to Wilf's spending as an example of the team's "long-term commitment to fielding a competitive team in Minnesota."
That contention is, of course, nonsense. But that fact puts the Vikings in far better salary cap position this year than most in the media have yet acknowledged.
The Vikings' modus operandi in spending to the cap under the Wilfs' ownership has quietly been guided by the determination to spend to the cap in year one while freeing up space for spending (or non-spending) in future years. In the NFL, this is a relatively easy accounting move that most teams eschew because they truly are in it for the long haul and they do not want to commit to maximum dollars each and every year.
To explain the difference, consider the Vikings signing a player to a five-year deal for $20 million with $10 million guaranteed. A second team, meanwhile, signs a player to the same five-year deal. The difference between the Vikings' approach and that of most other NFL teams, however, is that while the latter will designate the $10 million in guaranteed money a "signing bonus," the Vikings tend to designate the guaranteed money in almost every case as a "roster bonus."
The Vikings' approach accelerates all guaranteed money to year-one salary cap commitments while the signing bonus is pro-rated over the life of the contract. For the Vikings, the benefit is two-fold--it gets the team up to the salary cap in a hurry and it pays off the guaranteed portions of contracts (i.e., the portions that must count against the salary cap) up front.
In 2010, the Vikings had approximately $126 million in salary cap commitments. With the new CBA establishing a salary cap of $120 million, some members of the media reported that the Vikings were $5 million over the salary cap for 2011. Based on the Vikings' approach--and the actual known salary numbers--that figure is grossly exaggerated.
For currently signed players, the Vikings have commitments in the neighborhood of $95 million. That number will go up when McNabb's contract is finalized.
McNabb's figure could quickly propel the Vikings' cap hit above $105 million--but that, again, assumes that the Vikings continue to rely on a roster rather than signing bonus with McNabb. Should the Vikings rely on a signing bonus and multi-year contract for McNabb, they can sign him with minimal impact to the 2011 salary cap, leaving even more room to sign additional players.
In short, the Vikings have as many options as do most other teams in the league--including those teams widely regarded as having extensive salary cap space. And that considerable space assumes that the Vikings retain the players that have not yet left or been cut by the team--players like Madieu Williams who will count over $5 million against the Vikings' 2011 cap if retained but nothing if cut, Bryant McKinnie ($4.9 million) and Bernard Berrian ($3.9 million). If the Vikings are able to sign an offensive tackle, McKinnie and his $4.9 million cap hit will reduce to zero. Berrian's hit of zero likely was determined last year.
The question for Minnesota is not, then, whether they have cap room to sign the players that they need to make another run at the Super Bowl. Rather, the question is whether they will take advantage of the cap situation in which they almost uniquely have placed themselves to build a team around veterans Adrian Peterson, Visanthe Shiancoe, Donovan McNabb, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Antoine Winfield, Ryan Longwell, Percy Harvin, and Chris Kluwe, that gives them such an opportunity. That question is left to be answered.
Up Next: Receivers and Blockers.