The Vikings are in one of the toughest salary cap positions of any team in the NFL, with an estimated $5.3 million available to spend on free agents, including their own players in Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson.

The good news for the Vikings is that General Manager Rick Spielman, Executive Vice President Rob Brzezinski and Vice President George Paton have been in this kind of situation before and handled it well.

Perhaps the closest comparison for the Vikings is in 2014, when the team had free agents such as defensive linemen Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen, cornerback Chris Cook and quarterback Matt Cassel.

Allen was the Vikings' highest-paid player in 2013, making $17 million, and Williams was fifth highest at $5 million. Those two had been key players going back for years, but the Vikings knew if they were going to balance their roster they had to open up cap space for more players. So Allen ended up leaving for Chicago for $3 million in 2014, and Williams landed in Seattle for $2 million.

The Vikings signed Griffen to a big extension that year and also brought in Linval Joseph from the Giants.

The team's situation this year with Richardson and Barr is similar. Both were top earners in 2018 but there's a real question if the team will bring them back.

Barr made $12.3 million in 2018, third most on the team behind Kirk Cousins ($24 million) and Xavier Rhodes ($13.3 million). And Richardson was the Vikings' eighth-highest-paid player at $8 million.

Money a team effort

Brzezinski is a part of all the team's major personnel meetings so that he can explain how each decision will affect the salary cap.

"Part of my job is putting all the pieces together, so you're putting the business side along with the coaching side along with the scouting side and we all get together and we have tons of meetings," Spielman said. "I have Rob sit in all our personnel meetings so he can listen to what others have to say, as well. Me, him, and George Paton and coach Zim [Mike Zimmer] will then get together and try to put a final game plan together.

"Rob presents us the options. If you want to go this route, this is the domino effect. You have to have a guy like Rob Brzezinski who is handling the financial side of it and the contracts and salary cap and how that all fits. We have to know that not all the coaches are involved in the financial part, but coach Zim definitely is. If we do this and do this contract then this is what's going to happen. Just like you do with all the personnel scenarios that you go through, you have to go through the same with the cap."

Examine all options

Spielman said it is difficult trying to determine how things will play out with different free agents around the league. For instance, if the Vikings want to sign a player and build their free agency plans around that player, but he signs elsewhere, what's their next move?

That's a big part of what the team works on during the offseason.

"We'll look at all of our options," Spielman said. "We have had numerous meetings, not only the draft but our UFA [unrestricted free agent] meetings and Viking personnel meetings. We laid out a bunch of different scenarios and we'll try to finalize our plan. But I would say we look at A, B, C, D options, because it can go a lot of different directions and you just have to be flexible.

"We try to do our due diligence and go through as many scenarios as we can about what could happen. Now you'll have a better sense probably two days before free agency begins when we're allowed to start negotiating with players from other teams and working on their contracts, you get a good sense of the market and what your guy is going to get and what is going to be available out there."

It's those kinds of scenarios that make it tough to know if the Vikings will be able to bring back their own free agents — not only Barr and Richardson but also Nick Easton, Latavius Murray and Marcus Sherels.

Still, when asked if this was his most difficult group of free agents, Spielman said they have handled tougher salary cap situations and come out fine.

"I don't know about that. We have been very proactive as far as locking our young talent up," he said. "Last year we were able to get three guys done, Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks.

"You know we tried to get Anthony Barr locked up and it just didn't work out. We'll see where his market is coming up. We're always going to try to build this team and continue to build this team through the draft, and when we have to give big-time contracts out, I'd rather do it from within, if we can."


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Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. •