Since Zygi Wilf purchased the Minnesota Vikings seven years ago, the team has favored roster over signing bonuses when signing free agents. Unlike signing bonuses, which count against a team's salary cap in pro-rated fashion over each year of the player's contract, accelerating only if a player is released prior to the end of the contract, a roster bonus counts fully against a team's salary cap in year one of the contract.
The benefit of the roster bonus is that, although it accumulates salary cap in year one much quicker than would using a signing bonus, it assures a team of more fixed costs in subsequent years. From a cynical perspective, the roster bonus also permits teams to appear as though they are matching their peers in spending when their peers, in many instances, are far more extended simply because they have made commitments not only in year one but over the next five years or more.
If ever there was a year in which the Vikings needed to alter their philosophy and switch to signing bonuses, this would be the year. Without a stadium deal and with many holes to fill, the Vikings need to improve quickly. And that cannot happen by bringing forward all costs to this year.
After clearing some dead wood from the roster and re-working some bloated contracts, the Vikings look to be $20-24 million under the salary cap for 2012. In a traditional season for the team, that space would permit two decent signings. Using signing bonuses rather than roster bonuses, however, that same amount of money could well be used to sign as many as five quality free agents. With pressing needs at wide-receiver, cornerback, safety, linebacker, and on the offensive line, making use of signing bonuses thus appears the logical, even necessary route for the team to go in this year's free agency.
Even assuming that the asking price moves well north for quality free agents willing to sign with a team that finished 2011 with a 3-13 record, Vikings' fans should expect nothing less than three quality free-agent signings this season.
Among the Vikings' free-agent targets should be Vincent Jackson, Steve Johnson, and Mike Wallace (despite being a restricted free-agent with a first-round pick price tag), at wide-receiver, Carlos Rogers, Cortland Finnegan, and Brandon Carr, at cornerback, Curtis Lofton and Stephen Tulloch, at linebacker, and offensive guard Carl Nicks.
To get the proper group of players, the Vikings not only will need to rely on signing bonuses, but also longer-term contracts to help spread out the bonuses. That could leave the team in a precarious position should more than one of the signings prove a bust in the short term. But with some big contracts coming off the books in the next two years, the team should be able to absorb anything short of a full, large class of bad free-agent signings.
Up Next: Hitting It. Plus, (past) time to cut ties with Cook.