Inside the Vikings payroll: Joe Berger could be paid like a starter
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If the Minnesota Vikings move on from veteran guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera this offseason, the oldest remaining member of their offensive line would be a leading candidate to replace one of them.
Joe Berger received a $125,000 signing bonus on the two-year contract he received in September, according to a source with access to NFL salary data, and incentives could push his compensation in 2012 as high as $1.825 million -- starting-caliber money if he ends up taking such a role.
Berger, 29, chose the Vikings' offer over at least three others because it was close to his small hometown in Michigan and the team was willing to give him a chance to earn close to the $1.8 million he was due if Miami hadn't cut him a week earlier.
He ended up playing 486 snaps (46.9%) over 13 games last season, starting seven at three positions and acquitting himself well enough to earn consideration for a starting job -- most likely at right guard, where second-year pro Brandon Fusco also could get a look if Herrera doesn't return.
Berger is due a $35,000 roster bonus by the 20th day of the 2012 league year, which begins on March 13, plus a $40,000 workout bonus and $1 million in base salary. He can make another $750,000 through incentives triggered by playing time -- $150,000 for 65% of the snaps, $400,000 for 75% of the snaps and the full amount for 85% of the snaps.
Younger than Hutchinson (34) or Herrera (32 in June), Berger also is a more attractive option because he has minimal mileage on his body. He played in only seven games over his first four NFL seasons with Miami and Dallas before breaking into the Dolphins lineup in 2009.
The signing of Berger completed a roundabout swap for Ryan Cook, whom the Vikings re-signed for the same $125,000 bonus on Aug. 3, only to release him a month later. Cook signed with Miami and spent the whole season there, appearing in seven games as a backup.
An unexpected complication with the new collective-bargaining agreement forced the Vikings to use some creative accounting with their rookie spending in August, and they'll cut some extra roster bonus checks this spring as a result.
The Vikings couldn't have known in January the $75,000 signing bonus they gave former Canadian Football League receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux would take up the entire allotment the NFL gave them for undrafted rookies. To get around the issue, vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski designed a two-part solution.
First, undrafted rookies were given reporting bonuses instead of signing bonuses to get past the $75,000 limit. Those bonuses still counted against their nearly $6 million rookie spending limit, though, so the Vikings made up the difference by scheduling roster bonuses for most of their draft picks after the second and third years of their deals.
That's why end Christian Ballard ($29,222), cornerback Brandon Burton ($14,313), tackle DeMarcus Love ($10,914), safety Mistral Raymond ($9,871), guard Brandon Fusco ($9,639) and end D'Aundre Reed ($6,891) all have a little extra change coming and the Vikings will carry a little more for those players on their 2012 cap.
Top draft picks Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph were the only draft picks who didn't have such bonuses, but they'll each get a healthy payday on March 15. Ponder is due the remaining $2 million of his $5,888,144 signing bonus, and Rudolph is due $500,000 of his $1,887,164 bonus.
Other players scheduled to receive deferred bonus signing bonus payments in March include Adrian Peterson ($5.5 million), Chad Greenway ($5 million), Brian Robison ($3 million), John Sullivan ($2.5 million) and long snapper Cullen Loeffler ($250,000).
Making ends meet
How much work did the Vikings have to do in August?
Even after cutting three veterans (Jimmy Kennedy, Madieu Williams and Bryant McKinnie) and restructuring the contracts of two others (Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo), the Vikings were so tight against the cap they added two dummy years to Charlie Johnson's contract to stretch the proration of his $3 million signing bonus.
That's not an uncommon mechanism in the NFL, but it is unusual for a team that long has kept its cap healthy with a smart, pay-as-you-go model that doesn't borrow from future years. At more than $10 million under the projected 2012 cap before making any cuts, the Vikings shouldn't have to resort to such measures this offseason.
Johnson's deal, which in essence is for three years and $10.5 million plus $1 million in likely to be earned incentives, is scheduled to void after the 2013 season.
The Vikings are believed to have about $2 million in "dead" money from unamortized signing bonus proration on their 2012 cap, but they won't have any for Williams.
That's because the Vikings quietly restructured Williams' deal late in the 2010 season to dump his remaining bonus proration onto their payroll for the uncapped year.
Dead money believed to be on the cap is for Berrian ($1,666,668), linebacker Ross Homan ($88,620), offensive lineman Chris DeGeare ($82,200), Cook ($62,500), receiver Stephen Burton ($56,925), Arceneaux ($50,000) and halfback Caleb King ($3,334).
Last week, general manager Rick Spielman raised the possibility of going into 2012 with Ponder and Joe Webb as the only quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, with a third signal-caller on the practice squad.
Such an arrangement could create a spot for McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the 23-year-old who had brief stints with San Francisco and Miami last year and also spent time in the United Football League and Arena Football League.
The two-year deal Bethel-Thompson signed with the Vikings last month included a $5,000 signing bonus -- an unusual inclusion in a reserve/futures contract that suggests the team views him as more than a warm body.
If the Vikings go with a veteran, pending free agent Sage Rosenfels remains the front-runner. The team intends to meet with his agent later this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.