Steve Hutchinson (left) and Anthony Herrera (right)
Release under-performing and over-paid veterans
As written in the introduction to this series, the Vikings currently have little cap space to pursue big name free-agents. With at least nine positions to fill (current roster + draft picks) the Vikings have little over $1 million per spot to spend. Although Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen are more than worth the contracts they have been given by the Vikings, their salaries are handcuffing the team with regards to signing free-agents.
If the Vikings are serious about competing for the playoffs next season they will have two choices: 1) trade Jared Allen or Adrian Peterson or 2) cut veterans with big salaries. Option 1 is unrealistic as doing so would cause a public uproar and doom any momentum the team had with casual fans in building a stadium. That leaves the team with option 2.
Cuts that need to be made
Steve Hutchinson was possibly the best free-agent signing for the Vikings since Randall Cunningham. However, this past season his age and a rash of injuries finally caught up with him and his production declined significantly. He currently holds a cap figure of $8.4 million. If the Vikings were to release him, they would save $6.95 million against the 2012 salary cap. Although they would have to eat nearly $1.5 million in unusable cap space, this move would benefit both sides; the Vikings gain more cap space to use on a more productive player, and Hutchinson can sign with a contender like Philadelphia who is need of a solid starting left guard.
The next player I think the Vikings should release is Cedric Griffin. Although Griffin seemed to finally put it together and have a decent game against Chicago in the season finale, he will turn 30 in November and has clearly lost more than a step due to the two knee surgeries. Griffin carries a cap hit of $5.225 million for 2012 and is signed through 2015 with an escalating salary. His base salary next season is $4.1 million, meaning the Vikings would have a little over $1 million in cap penalties for doing so in 2012. However, much like the situation with Hutchinson, the Vikings could use the $4.1 million to sign a more productive player. They should be willing to eat the $1 million in cap penalties in order to free up this valuable cap space.
The next player on my radar to be cut is Anthony Herrera. This goes without saying, but I will say it anyway; Anthony Herrera is TERRIBLE! Over the last few seasons, advanced statistics and film evaluation have shown Herrera to be one of the worst, if not the worst guard in football. Even if the Vikings did not have salary cap concerns they should cut Herrera and his $2.9 million salary. When all is said and done the Vikings would save $2.65 million against the 2012 cap.
Other possible cap casualties
Other players the Vikings could look into releasing include Remi Ayodele (who would save $2.2 million in cap space), Ryan Longwell (save about $2 million), and Brian Robison (around $4 million in extra space). I am sure some of you might be silently cursing me and asking why cut these guys after signing them last season, but each has under-performed and have cheaper replacements available that could provide the same level of output or better. Ayodele was a big (no pun intended) disappointment and the Vikings have some young and promising DTs like LeTroy Guion, who is a free agent, and Christian Ballard. Neither of these guys are NTs but the Vikings can also look to fill this void in the mid to later rounds of the NFL Draft.
Longwell is one of the most accurate field goal kickers in the NFL, but his leg strength is beginning to decline and he is one of the worst kickoff specialists in the league. Next season he will be 38 years old and I think it was a mistake for the Vikings to sign him to such a lengthy 4 year extension last offseason. The Vikings could find a replacement on the free-agent market such as Josh Scobee, Mike Nugent, Connor Barth, Neil Rackers or Matt Prater. Or they could look for a promising talent in the later rounds of the draft such as Georgia’s Blair Walsh.
Now on to Robison, a player who accounted for 8 sacks in 2011. I think he is a solid player in this league and would start for a good amount of 4-3 teams, however he had a penchant for disappearing for large stretches of the season. In fact he went more than 4 games without a sack in the middle of the season. That kind of inconsistent effort is not what you want from a guy you are paying close to $5 million per year. If the Vikings can unload him for a 3rd-5th round pick, they should jump all over it. Also keep in mind that Everson Griffen is more than capable of performing at the same level Robisondid in 2011. Neither are as good as Ray Edwards against the run, but both are better pass-rushers who can benefit by playing across from Jared Allen.
Some of you may be wondering why I did not include Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield in my list of players to be cut, and rightfully so based on the type of production we are used to seeing from these two and what we got in 2011. But, in watching Williams throughout the season I saw a guy that is as good as ever at stopping the run and still better than most DTs in the NFL at rushing the passer. He performed at a high level last season, proving he is worth his $7 million salary. Another reason not to drop Williams is the $8.5 million in guaranteed money he is due in 2013 and 2014. That money will count against the Vikings cap whether or not he is with the team and is simply too big of a chunk of money to be wasted. Winfield spent most of 2011 hurt or on IR. Thankfully, due to a clause in his contract regarding games played his cap hit for 2012 is just $3.28 million. I am more than willing to give a player with Winfield’s track record a spot on my roster for that amount of money, even though he will be 35 years old next season. If he loses a step during the offseason and re-hab process, he will likely be moved to safety, helping solidify the worst safety tandem in the NFL in 2011.
Overall with the cuts I have suggested the Vikings would save $22 million against the cap for 2012. This would leave the team with around $35 million to spend on 16 roster spots. That’s not great, but it would allow the team to sign at least two bigger name guys at premium need positions like S and WR. I will address each of these issues in parts 2 and 3 of this series respectively.