Edit—Because of a logical oversight, there’s an update to these numbers at the bottom of the calculation discussion that expands the space the Vikings have.
Reading into a series of mundane team moves can easily lead to some hyperbolic speculation; any team may simply be taking advantage of the time they have and the situation they’re in to take care of some house cleaning. But that won’t stop me or you from trying to read the tea leaves that the Minnesota Vikings have left behind with a series of small but interesting moves.
As an update, the Vikings have signed nose tackle Linval Joseph (a great move), cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (a good move), linebacker Jasper Brinkley (a likely unimpactful move) and cornerback Derek Cox (a… move) while having re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen, quarterback Matt Cassel, cornerback Marcus Sherels, interior offensive lineman Joe Berger, running back Matt Asiata, defensive tackle Fred Evans, special teams player/linebacker Larry Dean, guard Charlie Johnson and receiver Jerome Simpson.
The Vikings could be on their way for even more.
In the process of all those signings, Minnesota consumed somewhere between $31.17 million and $32.67 million, depending on the nature of the Jerome Simpson and Charlie Johnson contracts (the NFLPA website has more this morning, but not all of Minnesota’s contracts are in). With about $17 million left, the Vikings wouldn’t have much space for a new signing (the rookie pool of money is about $6 million, but prorating the picks they have from the cap space consumed last year produces a number of about $7 million), much less re-signing players.
In fact, using the Spotrac calculations and the official cap space numbers the Vikings have from NFLPA, the Vikings should have between $4.5 million and $6 million (the wide range is due to the ambiguity of the impact of the rookie signings and the Simpson/Johnson contracts) still effectively useful for current free agents.
This does not include potentially re-signing players like Desmond Bishop, Joe Webb, Kevin Williams and Marvin Mitchell. The good news is that the penalty applied by any new re-signings (or general FA signings) won’t have a full cap hit, because only the top 51 contracts of any team will count against the cap—meaning a player that had a cap hit of $500,000 will effectively be taken off the books by any new signing.
If, for example, they signed Joe Webb to a similar contract as Derek Cox’s (who, while being paid out more money this year, only costs $570,000 in cap space) would have virtually no effect on the cap other than an escalation of less than $100,000. This is the reason teams can meet the cap while still entering camp with a roster of 90 players, but not increase their cap space when they’re down to a roster of 53.
But the Vikings have also cleared up new space. Restructuring the contracts of Chad Greenway, Jerome Felton and Jamarca Sanford has cleared up $2.1-$2.5 million in space, and the update on the NFLPA page seems to imply the Vikings have cleared even more (no new contracts are in, but the space went up by $3 million, not $2.5 million over the course of a day).
$8.5 million is a far cry from $6 million, and more space may be on its way.
**UPDATE: As commenter IndyStorm astutely points out, I am an idiot. The rookies are subject to the Rule of 51 as well (naturally). The Vikings total cap space is far closer to the range of $11.5 million to $12.8 million. That’s quite the available haul.
Certainly the Vikings are interested in former Bears undertackle Henry Melton—who when healthy was one of the top players in the country at his position—but his prospects elsewhere seem pretty bright (he’s visited Seattle and is in Dallas). The Vikings have also had “casual” contact with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who’s currently in New Jersey visiting the Jets.
But there are signings with upside to be had on the market. Aside from Melton and Rodgers-Cromartie, players with versatility and upside can be had. Alex Carrington was a well-touted 3-4 defensive end coming out of Arkansas State whose age (26) might encourage teams to invest in the upside that made him a late-second, early-third round projection (picked early in the third round of the draft). He’s played in multiple systems and may serve the hybrid fronts that head coach Mike Zimmer has touted. Despite injury in 2013, he was one of the top interior defensive tackles in the NFL in 2012 but had an awful 2011.
At cornerback, Carlos Rogers is still available. He isn’t well-liked by many San Francisco fans, but the truth is that he’s been an above average cornerback in his time there, with an absolutely stellar 2011 to his name. At 32, he’s unlikely, but having a bridge CB as they draft and develop another could go a long way into making the Vikings competitive far sooner than people may realize.
Another aging player that might serve to be better than excellent as a depth option is former Packers receiver James Jones, who is a starting-quality player that could provide massive benefits to a Vikings receiver corps full of young players (and Greg Jennings). On the other end could be Danario Alexander, a receiver with an extremely checkered injury history (he spent all of 2013 on IR because of a preseason ACL tear, and has had a quite a few knee surgeries) that should come on the cheap but has massive upside at 25 years of age.
Even positions of strength could use some fresh blood, depending on what the Vikings want. Andre Brown, James Starks and Tashard Choice are available as depth options at running back with Toby Gerhart gone, while Jermichael Finley and Ed Dickson could replace John Carlson. Adam’s bargain list is still full of options.
The Vikings could also uncharacteristically trade for a player. An unknown number of players are on the trading block, but many have linked the Vikings to current Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, who was projected as a first-round pick before dropping to the third round—many speculate due to character concerns and drug issues.
They could also trade for players like Andre Branch or Brandon Graham, both of whom are rumored to be on the trading block as well. Vinny Curry of the Eagles is in the same spot and they could even pull some major strings to take a stab at DeSean Jackson, who has been the subject of heavy speculation.
There were even rumors of cornerback Morris Claiborne being on the market, though they haven’t been repeated or had materialized in any real fashion either. Claiborne should be regarded as a draft bust, but he could be the kind of turnaround story that Zimmer is famous for, particular when it comes to former Dallas cornerbacks. The Dolphins seemingly have had a number of players on their trading block and the Vikings could pursue those.
And again, there are any number of players being quietly shopped that we know nothing about.
Any particular option has a low chance of being “correct” or a serious consideration for the Vikings. In fact, the Vikings could be clearing cap space simply because it’s a good thing to do. But the fact that they’ve seemingly begun to clear way for another player certainly is worth looking into.