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Free agency is right around the corner and one of the biggest offseason mysteries seems to now be resolved.

The NFL Players Association has notified NFL agents that the 2013 salary cap is to be at exactly $123 million, which is only a 1.7% increase from last year.  The formulas, accounting, nuances, and calculations that go into figuring out salary caps is a bear, but 1500 ESPN‘s Tom Pelissero has enough general details to give us an idea of where the Vikings stand.

The salaries that count against the cap are the accumulation of the top 51 salaries on the roster.  That is important to keep in mind, as often fans think signing street free agents or undrafted rookies is a waste of cap space when they may not actually count against the cap at all.

The cap is set at $123 million and the Vikings have $118 committed to their top 51 contracts, which leaves about $5 million left over.  However, a few factors are going to boost that number.  They have about half a million, actually just a little under, of dead money charged against them.

First, the Vikings received a $1.643 cap credit as a result of last offseason’s penalties against the Redskins, Cowboys and Saints for how they conducted business during the uncapped year.  Secondly, the Vikings chose to carry over about $8 million in unused space from last season.

That means, as of today, the Vikings are expected to have about $14.2 million in cap space when free agency opens.  That number puts the Vikings a little better than average compared to the other 31 franchises and in decent shape to make a run at a player or two.

That number could actually grow significantly, as Pelissero points out, by making some moves concerning their current roster.  The team is expected to jettison wide receiver Michael Jenkins, who is owed a $2.425 million roster bonus on March 16th, which would clear about $3.25 million in additional cap space.

Also, veterans like Jared Allen, Antoine Winfield, and Kevin Williams are certain to at least be approached about contract restructurings that could free up a significant amount of cash.  Jared Allen alone carries a cap number in excess of $17 million.

General Manager Rick Spielman has gone out of his way to temper the expectations of fans when it comes to free agency, claiming that the team is likely to be about as inactive as last year.  That is tough to believe when looking at the cap space available to them and some of their pressing needs.

Maybe, just maybe, the Vikings are planning to create more of a free agency stir than what is anticipated.

Of course, they may also just be trying to free up enough space to finally make Percy Harvin a happy camper.

The NFL Scouting Combine’s importance to how team’s view certain prospects can, and will, be debated until the end of time but there is little denying that it marks the beginning of the offseason.  Players, coaches, executives, and agents converge on Indianapolis and a lot of the groundwork is done over the course of the event.

The Combine is covered wall-to-wall by NFL Network and others, but I just wanted to offer up a few simple observations now that the DVR is rid of all Combine related recordings.

Alex Smith Trade:  Today, news became semi-official that the Niners will ship quarterback Alex Smith to the Chiefs in exchange for their second round pick this season and a conditional pick next season.  A number of Vikings fans have expressed interest in Smith over the last year, so this news is important in that the Smith-to-Minnesota speculation is finally dead.  Second, the move is expected to start a domino effect around the league that could see Matt Cassel playing (maybe even starting) elsewhere, could make Geno Smith and Matt Barkley fall deeper into the Draft than expected, and could set the tone for potential trades involving Matt Flynn or Nick Foles or Ryan Mallett.  Lastly, one can’t help but wonder if the Niners and their arsenal of draft picks might be interested in trading for some big names like Derrelle Revis and/or Percy Harvin.

Vikings Create An Odd Impression:  The Vikings met with a number of agents in Indianapolis, including those that represent the team’s pending free agents.  Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN recently told the Twitter world that the meeting between Vikings brass and agents were “awkward” because the team gave no indication as to their intentions or interest, but instead just asked agents where they stood in terms of money.  This sounds like Spielman just being Spielman, just trying to keep his intentions unknown, but the clock is ticking towards the beginning of free agency and the Vikings need to start taking care of some business.

Trying To Limit Winfield… Again:  Antoine Winfield was expected to be a part time player last year, and the year before that, but it just hasn’t ever happened.  Winfield has had to stay in the starting lineup due to Chris Cook’s inability to stay on the field and inconsistencies at the other starting spot.  Leslie Frazier told reporters that he wants to see Winfield play less and that makes every bit of sense, because Winfield is at his best int he nickel position and needs to take limited snaps to stay healthy.  Still, Frazier knows all too well that it is a lot easier to say than to do this, and this could be an indication that the Vikings might pull the trigger on another early cornerback in the Draft.  Dee Milliner, Johnthan Banks, Xavier Rhodes, and Desmond Trufant all deserve consideration at the #23 spot where the Vikings pick.  Frazier’s comments can also be translated to:  “We want Winfield to play part time and get paid like it.”  Winfield is expected to cost the Vikings $7.25 million in cap space this season.

Defensive Line Dominates:  This class is incredible when it comes to depth at positions along the defensive line.  I can almost guarantee there will be tackles and ends available in the second round or beyond that carry first round grades for a number of teams.  The Vikings have some needs along the defensive line, especially at defensive tackle, and if you do the math you have to figure a defensive lineman is the odds-on favorite to be the Vikings best player available when they are on the clock.  Either Kevin Williams or Jared Allen could conceivably see their future replacement drafted on day one.

Te’o Sideshow:  A lot was made of linebacker Manti Te’o’s forty time this week, but the most unattractive thing about this prospect has to be the hoards of cameras and reporters that follow him around.  The guy is a walking circus ever since his fake girlfriend story hit the internet and that can’t appeal to many teams, regardless of his perceived talent level.  Alec Ogletree, Kevin Minter, and Arthur Brown all could end up drafted ahead of Te’o who was considered a possible first overall selection just a few months ago.

Depth Creates A Buyer’s Market:  The Vikings may want to trade backwards from the 23 spot come Draft Day, in an effort to pick up more draft choices, but they may have trouble striking a deal because so many others may be looking to do the same.  It seems to be an overall consensus that this class contains enough depth that teams will feel confident that they are getting quality players in the third or fourth rounds, and those mid-round selections are going to be highly coveted.  A team that is looking to actually move forward might be able to drive the price down by talking to multiple teams and getting themselves the best deal.  Wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, and defensive back all seem to be positions of particular depth in this class.

I have long carried a banner that says “Accuracy By Volume” when it comes to my hopes for successful Vikings drafts.

When Rick Spielman was available to the press in Indianapolis he was asked a lot of questions that he essentially left unanswered.  He offered up nothing new regarding Percy Harvin’s status with the team.  He indicated very little when it comes to possibly restructuring the contracts of veteran players such as Jared Allen and Kevin Williams.  He didn’t say much at all that couldn’t have been predicted, almost verbatim, by anyone that even casually follows the NFL.

One thing he did say, however, perhaps offers a clue to solving the puzzle that is offseason speculation.

“I like picks,” Spielman said when asked about the possibility of trading down on Draft Day.  “My goal is to always have 10, if I can have 10 picks.”

I found these two sentences to be more intriguing than all the others that he spoke combined.  Why?  Because that leaves Spielman one pick short of his goal, that’s why.

I consider this to be a sort of bat signal, an invitation to other teams, indicating the Minnesota Vikings are open for business.  It sounds to me like Spielman has every intention of adding one more pick this season, and it won’t come as a compensatory selection, and would likely prefer to get a jump start on stockpiling 2014 picks, as well.

There are a number of ways Spielman can attain his desired quantity of picks.  Trading down from the #23 spot would go a long ways towards meeting that goal, but so would trading players… good players… really good wide receivers that can also return kicks and line up as a running back, perhaps.

As the Pioneer Press managed to point out when they weren’t stalking Percy Harvin at his Florida home, the Vikings have selected 10 players in each of the last two drafts, and 18 of those 20 are still on the roster today.  Nine of them played as starters, or saw significant playing time, in 2012 and are expected to contribute even more next season.

This Draft class, as acknowledged by Spielman and plenty of others, is considered to be a very deep one with a record number of underclassmen available for the taking.  It may not be as top heavy as in years passed, but there are impact players expected to come off the board in all rounds, particularly in the offensive and defensive line groups.

Prior to the 2011 Draft, I indicated that Spielman has plenty of mistakes on record that resulted from ill-advised trades, but he has somewhat vindicated himself while enjoying more power and freedom during the Leslie Frazier era.

Spielman’s comments in Indianapolis should be considered fair warning, though, that he is aiming for three years straight of successful movement on Draft Weekend.

Which, of course, will make things a hell of a lot of fun.

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Chris Kluwe and Jared Allen now have a new rehab partner.

Reports surfaced on Wednesday that Vikings Pro Bowl center (yeah, I said it) John Sullivan had microfracture surgery on his knee and will be out for the next three to four months.  Of course, if one is going to miss four months as an NFL player, these upcoming four are the ones to miss.

That timeline puts Sullivan back into action by the time training camp rolls around, and all indications are that he should be fine by then.

Percy Harvin was recently at Winter Park for his exit physical and Leslie Frazier, as usual, calmly assessed the situation.

“It went well. He’s fine. He’s cleared,” Frazier said. “All the medical was good.”

This indicates that Harvin’s ankle sprain should be a non-issue moving forward, but the more pressing question surrounding Harvin is whether or not he’ll be playing as a member of the Minnesota Vikings or some other team in 2013.

Frazier said that his star receiver was in a “good frame of mind” during his time at winter park.  “We’ll see where it goes from there,” he added.

It was also recently reported that Harvin hit escalators in his contract that will nearly double his currently scheduled salary for 2013.  He is now scheduled to earn $2.9 million under his current deal, but there is no reason to expect him to step foot on a football field during the upcoming season unless he is under the terms and conditions of a brand new deal.

As far as Harvin goes, I will still direct you to this article that I penned quite some time ago.  Nothing has really changed since then, other than Harvin’s salary.

Harvin isn’t the only player that got a boost next year from unlocking incentives.  Chris Cook, Joe Webb, Everson Griffen, and Toby Gerhart are all members of the 2010 Draft class and each unlocked a salary increase that will bring them each to $650,000.  Cook also unlocked a $1 million roster bonus and will carry a cap hit of $2.305 in 2013.

Meanwhile, with Harvin getting healthy again, two of his teammates recently went under the knife.  Punter Chris Kluwe had his knee cleaned up because of some loose cartilage.  The Vikings signed punter T.J. Conley to a reserve/future contract, but it is unlikely that Kluwe’s surgery cuts into any of his offseason practice time.

Jared Allen also had surgery, the first of his football career, due to a torn labrum that he played with through the entire 2012 season.  Allen delayed the surgery so that he could participate in the Pro Bowl, but he is still expected to be ready to go by the time training camp rolls around.

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