With about $24 million in cap money to spend, the Minnesota Vikings are in good shape for both signing their own free agents as well as making room for some new players.
They've already begun returning some players to the fold, as well as reaching out to guys like Greg Jennings of the division rival Green Bay Packers.
Still, they appear to be moving slowly and cautiously, focused on retaining guys they already have as much as paying—sometimes overpaying—for guys they would like to have.
On the next page, we'll take a look at how they've spent some money so far, and then as new players sign, we'll update the slideshow with some analysis of the cap impact.
The one notable release of the day for the Vikings was a bit of a surprise (per Tom Pelissero of ESPN1500.com), though not a complete shock.
Antoine Winfield is a 10-year veteran who, while he had a very good season in 2012, isn't worth the $7.25 million base salary he was about to be paid. A great tackler and a fantastic leader, Winfield's coverage skills have declined (stats from 2012 notwithstanding), and the Vikings are a team looking to get younger across the board.
It wouldn't shock me if Winfield returned for less money, any more than it would shock me if he moves on to a contender hoping he is that "one more piece" that takes them over the top.
Cutting Winfield doesn't even leave the team holding some dead money. While you hate to see him go, it looks like the time had come. Now the team needs to get a good replacement.
Financials have yet to be released on this deal, but it seems like a no-brainer to me. The Vikings want their line to stay consistent and are willing to pay to do so. Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN has reported that the deal is worth a little more than $5 million a year—a bit high for a right tackle but perhaps worth it to hold the line together.
Phil Loadholt was rated as the 22nd-best tackle in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscriber link), which only rated him negatively in terms of penalties.
It's hard to put a price on a right tackle, but you can't put a price on keeping your quarterback clean and your running back moving forward. Pending details that make this contract ridiculous, this looks like a great signing.
While having Jerome Simpson return (per Marc Sessler of NFL.com) to the Vikings won't stop fans from freaking out about the state of the wide receivers, it's actually not a bad move (assuming as many do, that the money is reasonable).
The remaining receivers post-Harvin trade were Jarius Wright (good), Greg Childs (hurt) and Stephen Burton (ummm...). Simpson was hurt last year, and while he was never as good as he looked his last year in Cincinnati, he is better than what we saw in 2012.
He will provide continuity for Christian Ponder, something every young quarterback needs in his offense.
A short, cheap contract will 1) keep Simpson hungry and 2) keep the team from having to retrain too many receivers at once.
While Jamarca Sanford has some issues in coverage, I said earlier that it's a solid signing. Details of the contract are still not being provided, but it appears Sanford is on a two-year deal (per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com).
With Harrison Smith locking down one half of the safety positions, Sanford (likely platooned with Mistral Raymond) should be able to more than hold his own on the other side.
With Antoine Winfield gone, the secondary could really not afford to risk having to fill two different positions.
Sanford is a solid tackler and will help against the run. He needs to step his game up in coverage, but he'll be driven to prove himself on a short contract and yet easily cut if he can't or if the Vikings come across someone who is better.
At the end of the season, Jerome Felton reportedly told general manager Rick Spielman he wanted to come back, and the team said they'd make it happen.
According to Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune, that has become a reality.
I've talked more than once about how much I believe Felton does for this offense, and while there are splashier signings going on today, this one could be one of the Vikings' biggest this free-agency period.
Between Felton and Loadholt, the Vikings retain two key players who helped Adrian Peterson have a spectacular season and will provide a good basis for a line to keep Christian Ponder standing.
A Pro Bowler last season, Felton did a tremendous job blocking for the Vikings, and it's good to see them reward him with a three-year deal.
According to Spotrac.com, Felton's deal is for three years, $7.5 million, averaging $2.5 million a year.
We'll adjust the cap for the Vikings when the hit surfaces, but figuring it's not heavily front-loaded, they should be at about $98 million or so, which means they are at about $21 million under the cap.
These contract details all come from Jerome Simpson's favorite media guy, Tom Pelissero.
Henderson's contract is a two year deal worth a total of $4 mill. Pelissero says it has a $500,000 signing bonus with another $500,000 roster bonus due on March 20th.
The salaries per year break down like this—Henderson earns $950,000 this year and $1.95 million in 2014. There is a workout bonus and incentives for each year as well.
According to Pelissero, Henderson's cap number is $1.75 this year and $2.25 for 2014.
Both of which seem pretty reasonable.
Pelissero says Sanford is set to make $5 million on a two year contract with a base of $1.45 in 2013 and a base of $2.45 for 2014. Like Henderson, there is a $500,000 signing bonus as well as a $500,000 roster bonus due on March 20th.
He also has $50,000 in workout bonus' in both years. Sanford's cap hit, according to Pelissero, should be $2.25 million this year and $2.75 next year.
Both years are manageable.
For Loadholt's extension, Pelissero says the contract is worth $25 million over four years, with a $7 million dollar signing bonus.
Pelissero also pointed out that the "$6.25 million average would have exceeded the pay of any right tackle in the NFL last season except Dallas' Doug Free, a former left tackle whose deal averages $8 million".
Nice work if you can get it.
The base for 2013 is $2.9 million, increasing to $3.4 million in 2014, $4.4 million in 2015 and $5.4 million in 2016 (I will be shocked if he sees that last year). He also has $500,000 roster bonuses due each year as well as $100,000 workout bonuses.
This year's cap number is $4.75 million and Pelissero says it goes up $1 million dollar every year for the length of the contract.
So if we started with approximately $24 million in space, then subtract the $8.75 million dollar cap hit from these three contracts, that gives us approximately $15.25 million left to play with.
One would think plenty more money to work with.
Updated because I forgot to add in Felton's almost $3 million dollar cap hit—$2.5 to be exact—which leaves us at about $12.75 million, which doesn't include the cap hit for Simpson still to come.
1500 ESPN's Tom Pelissero confirmed it a short time later.
Cassel is a solid backup and a much better player than Joe Webb—something on the team's mind after this year's meltdown in the playoffs. He's not cut out to be a long term starter, but as a fill in he can do well in the right system.
As soon as there are contract details, I'll update here.
NFL.com says the contract is a two year one, voidable after the first year. It included $3.7 million guaranteed and $500,000 in incentives but the overall total is $4 million in cap hit.
Which leaves us with about $8.75 in cap room.
You can shut down the shop kids, this one is over.
The Vikings left nothing on the table this free agency period, ending the majority of their participation with a whopping five year contract for Greg Jennings which ESPN's Josina Anderson says could top out at $47.5 million.
While I haven't seen the cap hit yet, it's not hard to imagine the Vikings are done. Even if they pull a Miami Dolphins move and load everything up in year two, they've still spent about what they could in this deal.
Assuming all the math is right (and let's face it, until the definitive numbers come out, it probably isn't quite on point), that's likely somewhere a $8 and $9 million hit for the cap.
Which, since we were at approximately $8.75 after Matt Cassel, put us somewhere around zero dollars to spend.
Anderson also mentioned that the contract has a minimum amount of value over the last three years of $27 million and a maximum of $28.5 million.
Again, this looks like the cash is spread out during the first two, then loaded up on the last three, mitigating cap annihilation overall.
Also interesting is what Fox Sports North's Brian Hall tweeted out.
The contract Percy Harvin got from the Seahawks is a six-year, $67 million contract with $25.5 guaranteed. Compare that to Jennings' five year, $47.5 million contract with just $18 million guaranteed.
Now, Harvin is much younger and the two play very different games anyway, but Harvin got $11 million a year vs Jennings' $9.5.
Maybe they would have paid Harvin that had he been happier to be in Minnesota, maybe not. Hopefully going with the cheaper option won't mean less quality play.
As of Tuesday the 19th of March, I'd say it's fair to assume the Vikings are all but done with free agency.
I'm not clear on the discrepancy between the two numbers, but it's not so much as to cause concern because the bottom line remains that the Vikings have very little cap room left.
And frankly, you have to applaud the front office for figuring out how to get Jennings on board against what was clearly a tight cap space. It won't be an issue for the next two seasons and by that time, the team could cut him if he's not worth the spike—or they might restructure.
The only question remaining is, what about Antoine Winfield?
The team has expressed interest in having him back, but is that financially viable? He was owed $7.25 million when released and won't find that in the open market, or in Minnesota.
Still, as he was hurt by the sudden release (which was the right move, and poorly handled) and that might make it tough to find a middle ground.
On top of that, they need to sign their rookies—two of which are currently first round picks.