This is the time of year when players become budget lines again as front offices assess and reassess the dollar values assigned to many players in breakable contracts.
The Vikings gained about $5 million against next year’s salary cap with last week’s release of Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris, beginning needed rebuilding efforts along the offensive line. But the major moves that could more than double the Vikings’ projected $21.4 million in space, per OverTheCap.com, have yet to come.
Should the Vikings exercise an option, Adrian Peterson would earn nearly $10 million more than any running back in the NFL is set to make next season. That’s not expected to happen and, with Peterson already tweeting about the Giants, the Vikings could gain $18 million in cap space if the option is declined or not picked up by the end of March 8. The next day, Sharrif Floyd’s salary becomes guaranteed if he and a $6.7 million fifth-year option aren’t declined by the team before then.
Moving on from Peterson and Floyd, who missed a combined 28 games last season, would put the Vikings around $46 million in cap space with the potential to create more from a couple corners of the roster.
Much of that could go quickly given General Manager Rick Spielman’s propensity to re-sign his own free agents. The Vikings have 14 unrestricted free agents and its not a lock who will or won’t return. The most costly contracts are expected to be Captain Munnerlyn and Cordarrelle Patterson, who both could leave in free agency.
The Vikings have made calculated, low-risk moves for veterans on the open market under Spielman. They’ve opted more for the bargain-bin signings and prove-it contracts than the big-money deals, saving those for drafted players like Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith. Another one of those deals will likely be coming to Xavier Rhodes this summer.
Linval Joseph’s $12.5 million was the most an outside hire has been guaranteed by the Vikings under Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer. Will that change with glaring needs along the offensive line? More was needed to lure last year’s top O-line free agents in Cordy Glenn, Mitchell Schwartz, Kelechi Osemele and Alex Mack.
Just to estimate, the Vikings could have about $20 million to $25 million in space after setting aside portions for the rookie class ($6 million) and restricted/exclusive rights free agents ($4 million), increasing Rhodes’ cap hit by $5 million and re-signing Matt Kalil ($5 million) and others to smaller deals like Audie Cole, Jeff Locke, Zach Line and Justin Trattou.
The Vikings could use some of that space to, let’s say, bulk up Adam Thielen’s contract after placing a tender on the restricted free agent. Or Sam Bradford’s deal could draw attention with only one season left under contract, a solid (and healthy) year behind him and Teddy Bridgewater’s playing future uncertain.
Soaring to the top of the priority list is the offensive line, which needs addressing ahead of what is expected to be a mediocre draft class for tackles — where the Vikings saw seven different players take snaps last season with three on injured reserve. Even if Kalil returns, they can’t again bank on his health.
The needs start stacking up as does the 2017 salary cap, which is reportedly expected to jump to $168 million. So whether the Vikings pursue an expensive tackle or guard like pending free agents Rick Wagner (Baltimore) or Kevin Zeitler (Cincinnati), they’ll have the ability to create cap room if they really want him.