The NFL salary cap for the 2013 season is expected to have an approximate maximum of $121 million, with a minimum of $107 million. Expect the Minnesota Vikings to be closer to the floor than the ceiling.
The Vikings have 38 players under contract for 2013. Their base salary and bonuses total $101.6 million, meaning the team will need to spend at least $5 million to meet the floor, but could spend as much as $19 million to improve the team.
The top five players on the roster will cost the Vikings $52.9 million—that's almost 44 percent of the maximum. This includes three players on defense—Jared Allen ($17.9 million), Chad Greenway ($8.7 million) and Kevin Williams ($8 million). The other two are offensive players, Adrian Peterson ($13.9 million) and Matt Kalil ($4.5 million).
Almost without question, money well spent.
The only player among those five whose contract might be questionable is Williams. In his 10 seasons, Williams has been the definition of consistency, missing only four games—two of those were the result of a suspension for the Starcaps controversy in 2011.
The question is whether Williams has a two-year option, worth just over $8 million per season, or if the Vikings' 2003 first-round draft pick will be an unrestricted free agent. Back in July, Tom Pelissero of ESPN1500 tweeted that there is no such option.
If that's the case, the Vikings would have another $8 million available to spend, and another free agent that they must re-sign.
Based on the performances of this past season, the best-spent money will be for field goal kicker Blair Walsh. In 2013 he will only cost the Vikings $509,000 against the cap. Walsh finished his rookie season leading the NFL with 35 field goals and set the NFL mark by making all 10 attempts over 50 yards.
His 141 points rank second in Vikings franchise history, behind only Gary Anderson, who had 164 points in the Vikings' 1998 season. The difference was Anderson converted 29 more extra points, playing for the top scoring offense in 1998.
So what's the best way to spend that $19 million they have available?
According to an article by Charlie Walters in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, general manager Rick Spielman will focus on his team's free agents first. Spielman was quoted:
"We're always going to try to keep our own guys."
Among those guys are fullback Jerome Felton, right tackle Phil Loadholt and linebackers Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley. These should be on the top of Spielman's list of players to re-sign.
The Vikings' defense finished 14th in the NFL in scoring, an improvement from 2011 when they finished 31st. A consistent linebacker unit led by Chad Greenway will be necessary to sustain that improvement in 2013.
The experience gained by Henderson in his second year as a starter and Brinkley in his first is something the Viking need to retain.
While many may question the decision to re-sign both linebackers and want the Vikings to sign a big-name linebacker to join Greenway, the truth is there are not any available via free agency. At least not any that Spielman will pursue. Therefore, the most prudent approach will be to retain both for 2013, and look to add some talent in the draft.
As for Loadholt, even though he was as one of the most penalized players in the NFL, flagged 11 times, he has started 63 of 64 games since being taken in the second round of the 2009 draft.
The Vikings will look to upgrade the offensive line, but not at tackle. Guard Geoff Schwartz, who Spielman signed as a free agent last season, played in 13 games, but did not make a start. This should be an area the Vikings make a major signing. In a previous article, I had Buffalo guard Andy Levitre as one of the Vikings' top free agent targets.
Selected three spots ahead of Loadholt in 2009, Levitre has started every game for the Bills over the past three years. His addition to the Vikings' offensive line would shore up a weak spot. He could take over for Charlie Johnson at left guard, and allow the veteran to move to right guard where he would compete with Brandon Fusco as the starter.
The Vikings also need to upgrade at wide receiver. Devin Aromashodu and Jerome Simpson are both free agents. Of the two, Simpson has the best chance of coming back next season, again with a reasonable contract. After catching 26 passes in 12 games he will not be commanding a huge contract after making $2 million this past season.
Don't look for Spielman to sign any big-name free agents like Dwayne Bowe or Mike Wallace, but to look to the draft to find an upgrade at wide receiver. With the 23rd pick, Spielman might work his magic to move up in the draft with the opportunity to select a top receiver. According to WalterFootball.com, that could be Keenan Allen from California or Terrance Williams from Baylor.
Trying to predict the Vikings' 2013 salary at this point would be an exercise in futility, but I'm sure it will be closer to the $107 million than the $121 million. Especially since the strategy worked to improve the Vikings by seven games this past season.
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