Two assertions are making the rounds of those covering the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL. One, extant since anyone began giving thought to this year's possible salary cap numbers, is that the Vikings are over the salary cap. The other, current since Tuesday but picking up steam, is that former Viking offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie was a solid player on whom the team could count, week after week. Neither assertion is supported either by the numbers or logic.
Prior to any free-agent signings, the Vikings were committed to approximately $95 million in base salary in 2011. The only two additional payouts that could increase that figure are pro-rated portions of signing bonuses and unattained "likely-to-be-achieved" incentive bonuses. Incentive bonuses count against the cap for the year in which they are offered and are only meaningful salary cap surprises if the NFL deems that unattained LTAs were unattainable, whereby the NFL attributes the unattained salary to the subsequent year's salary cap.
Under the Wilfs' ownership, the Vikings, as has been noted in this column on previous occasion, have relied on front-loaded roster bonuses. As an aside, and to allay another myth, this strategy actually makes Rob Brzezinski's job one of the easiest in the NFL as he is not asked to make any tough balancing decisions between how much to pay now and how much to pay later. As a non-aside, this reliance on roster bonuses makes the Vikings' salary cap situation more transparent than it is for most other teams as there is limited to no calculation required for pro-rated elements of players' contracts.
What all this means is that even after signing Donovan McNabb, Charlie Johnson, Hussain Abdullah, and Ryan Longwell, the Vikings remain well below the salary cap ceiling of $120 million for 2011. And that would have been true even if the Vikings had not cut Bryant McKinnie or restructured Bernard Berrian's contract--both of which the team did. That means that the Vikings do, in fact, have money to spend on several more free agents, even if the team opts not to reach a long-term agreement with linebacker Chad Greenway (a move the team will make in the very near future) and even if the Vikings rely on roster bonuses in any restructuring or free-agent deals.
The question for Minnesota thus is not whether they have the cap space to sign more free agents but whether they will sign more free agents. Given the team's need to maintain a heightened fan base interest to spur the on-going stadium drive (one of the greatest arguments for limited public funding of NFL stadiums), it is a near certainty that the Vikings will yet add two or three more veterans--particularly players able to fill holes on the offensive line and at defensive end, nose tackle, and/or wide-receiver.
Dove-tailing with the claim that the Vikings are over the salary cap ceiling is the absurd contention that former left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie was even remotely dependable. Rarely has a Viking player been less dependable than McKinnie. Despite all the benefits of a huge frame and purportedly agile feet, McKinnie was a disinterested sloth who routinely lost ground to on-coming defensive linemen.
The eye test is really all that is necessary to assess McKinnie's production in the NFL. In ten NFL seasons, McKinnie had one season that any objective eye test would find worthy of a Pro Bowl. Two years later, as is tradition in the NFL, McKinnie was rewarded for that one season, in the midst of a truly putrid season.
Whether taking a lead pipe to someone's head, failing to be in shape for games, or declining to assist his quarterback off the turf, McKinnie certainly could be counted on during his time in Minnesota. Unfortunately for his teammates and the fans, what he could be counted on was to be little better than a disinterested replacement-level player. He will not be missed either on the field or in the stands, unless one misses seeing the Vikings' quarterback lit up from the blind side.
Up Next: Possible Signings and Goings.