INDIANAPOLIS — The NFLPA announced Wednesday that the salary cap ceiling for the 2017 season will rise again this year, hitting $167 million. That means the Vikings currently have about $38 million in cap space, more than enough to be aggressive in free agency if they want to be.
“I think we can go out and attack some of this. We have the flexibility to do that with the money that we’ve cleared up over the last couple of weeks,” General Manager Rick Spielman said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. “But I still think we have to be patient. You have to be smart.”
The Vikings three weeks ago released offensive linemen Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris in cost-cutting moves. Then on Tuesday they announced that they would not pick up running back Adrian Peterson’s team option for 2017, which will free up another $18 million in cap space.
That gives the Vikings the ability to throw some serious cash at free-agent offensive linemen or tackle other, lesser positions of need. Spielman is typically cautious when it comes to free agency, but they have signed starters such as nose tackle Linval Joseph and guard Alex Boone in recent years.
“There’s been times where we’ve been in free agency,” Spielman said, “and sometimes you pulled the trigger and at two in the morning you’re staring at the ceiling wondering, ‘Did I do the right thing? Was it too much?’ Or we pulled back and [you ask yourself] ‘Should we have kept going?’”
While having similar internal debates next Thursday, when NFL free agency officially begins, Spielman will also keep an eye toward the future because some of his team’s top players, starting with cornerback Xavier Rhodes, will be due for lucrative new contracts in the 2018 and 2019 offseasons.
So with the increased salary cap expected to lead to a spending spree across the NFL, Spielman and the Vikings will guard against being overaggressive.
“If you don’t come out of the gate and have something done by Thursday or Friday, it doesn’t mean the world’s coming to an end,” Spielman said.
Spielman up front with Peterson
Spielman said he had “very positive” conversations Friday when informing Peterson and his agent that the Vikings would decline his option for 2017.
Spielman said he was upfront with Peterson and made it clear that even though they are letting him hit free agency, the Vikings are not closing the door on a potential return for the leading rusher in franchise history.
“We are very open, just as we are with all our players,” Spielman said.
Spielman declined to say what price the Vikings would be willing to pay to keep Peterson. He also said he doesn’t know what his market will be.
“You may have expectations today and those expectations all the sudden change within a week,” he said, later adding, “I wish I had an answer.”
The Vikings will monitor Peterson’s status once he officially reaches free agency next week and could still re-sign him. But no matter what, they are expected to grab one of the many good running backs in April’s NFL draft.
Vikings could draft QB
Spielman indicated that the Vikings, who have not drafted a quarterback since taking Teddy Bridgewater in the first round in 2014, will strongly consider selecting a signal-caller with one of their eight picks in the draft so they will have another prospect to develop behind starter Sam Bradford.
Spielman expressed disappointment that quarterback Taylor Heinicke missed out on valuable experience last summer after he severed a tendon in his ankle off the field when he kicked through a pane glass door.
“We were very excited about Heinicke. I didn’t anticipate, which is my fault, that he was going to put his foot through a door and miss the preseason,” he said. “[Quarterback is] another area that we have to look at because we missed all that time with Taylor in the preseason and training camp.”
Waynes holding trump card
While in Indianapolis this week, Spielman plans to meet with the agents for free-agent cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman so he can gauge their interest in remaining with the Vikings.
But regardless of whether they re-sign, Spielman made it clear that 2015 first-round pick Trae Waynes, who had three interceptions in 2016, is ready to become a full-time starter in his third season.
“Trae is definitely trending up,” Spielman said. “We thought he made tremendous strides. You saw it at the end of his rookie season and then this [last season] we saw it continue. We saw him making plays on the ball, made some plays that helped us win games [last season].”