Updated: November 24th, 2011 11:29pm
Pelissero: Several candidates if Vikings use cap space on extensions

Pelissero: Several candidates if Vikings use cap space on extensions

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by Tom Pelissero

The Minnesota Vikings handled their two most pressing contract issues before the season, re-signing Chad Greenway and Adrian Peterson to lucrative extensions that included more than $55 million in guarantees.

They crossed another potential free agent off the list in early October, agreeing to a three-year extension with long snapper Cullen Loeffler.

With roughly $4.1 million in available 2011 cap space remaining and time running short to use it, will the Vikings target anyone else for a deal before the transaction moratorium begins on New Year's Eve?

Three young starters -- center John Sullivan, outside linebacker Erin Henderson and free safety Husain Abdullah -- are the most logical candidates among 18 players unsigned for 2012. And the top priority may be Abdullah, whom the Vikings first offered an extension about two months ago, according to NFL sources.

Abdullah, 26, is in his fourth season and his second as a starter. He gave up touchdowns in three consecutive games at one point but is highly regarded within the building, making a two- to three-year "bridge" contract a sensible solution for the Vikings to find out what they have in a seemingly ascending player.

There was no rush for Abdullah to accept the initial offer, given that he's making $1.835 million this season under the second-round restricted tender and his devout Muslim faith discourages shows of selfishness. But he likes playing for coach Leslie Frazier and all indications are he wants to stay if the organization will have him.

Sullivan, 26, has made huge strides in his fourth season, but his injury history may be reason for pause. The Vikings haven't approached Sullivan about an extension, sources said, nor have they approached Henderson, 25, who has been highly productive in his first season as a starter but still isn't consistent enough for coaches' liking.

Three other key contributors are on the wrong side of age 30, and there's not even a guarantee they'll all be in the NFL next season.

At age 34, tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser has seen his role reduced this season and may not fit in the Vikings' rebuilding plans, contributing to the growing belief he'll retire. The North Dakota native turned down more lucrative offers before re-signing with the Vikings in 2009 and is believed to have no interest in uprooting his family for one last payday.

Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, 31, has battled swelling and soreness all season in the left knee where doctors inserted a titanium rod to repair a fractured femur in December 2009. The Vikings surely want to get younger in the middle of their defense, too, meaning Henderson probably qualifies as a backup plan at best for 2012.

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, 31, likely has the best chance for coming back out of the veteran group. But the Vikings used a second-round draft pick on Kyle Rudolph, and Shiancoe -- whose representatives quietly asked for a new deal after his breakout 2009 season -- may prefer to land with a team that doesn't appear a year or two away.

At least a couple of the other dozen potential free agents on the roster or injured reserve are as good as gone, and the rest seem unlikely to receive interest in an extension at a time the Vikings are 2-8 and have to be contemplating a major cleanout project.

Demoted quarterback Donovan McNabb won't be back. Offensive lineman Scott Kooistra, who suffered a major neck injury in the preseason, may not play again.

The other unsigned players are backups and role players: linebackers Xavier Adibi and Kenny Onatolu, receiver Devin Aromashodu, halfback Lorenzo Booker, offensive lineman Patrick Brown, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive tackles Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, safety Tyrell Johnson and cornerback Benny Sapp, who signed a one-year deal last week.

The Vikings' unused cap space is not substantial, relatively speaking. Six teams -- Jacksonville, Kansas City, Denver, Tampa Bay, Seattle and Buffalo -- reportedly have more than $20 million in unused cap space and the Vikings, who barely slipped under the cap with a series of cuts and renegotiations in July and August, with less than $5 million available.

It is believed the new collective-bargaining agreement makes it easier to roll over unused cap space to the following year, too, and the Vikings' vice president of football operations, Rob Brzezinski, is one of the best at manipulating the adjusted cap to the team's advantage.

If the Vikings do want to use some of their 2011 cap space on an extension, though, they have a little more than five weeks to do it. The deadline for extensions is 3 p.m. Central the day before a team's final regular-season game, which this year falls on Dec. 31.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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