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Updated: February 20th, 2013 6:12pm
Vikings open meetings with agents, don't need to rush on cap cleaning

Vikings open meetings with agents, don't need to rush on cap cleaning

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings wasted no time on Wednesday night beginning meetings with agents for their own unsigned players here at the NFL scouting combine.

Contract renegotiations with several high-priced veterans may come up in formal or informal conversations in the coming days as well. But that business can wait, if the Vikings want it to.

Unlike several teams that have dumped salary in recent weeks to comply with a largely flat cap, the decisions the Vikings must make on their roster for financial and accounting reasons before the new league year begins on March 12 are relatively limited.

The 2013 cap is not yet set, though a report this week from ProFootballTalk.com said it will be at least $122 million -- up from $120.6 million in 2012, but still down nearly 5% from the last capped year of the old collective-bargaining agreement ($127.997 million in 2009).

If the cap falls at exactly $122 million, the Vikings would be about $13.2 million under their adjusted cap as of Wednesday night. An unamortized incentive payment to cornerback Antoine Winfield pegs their actual cap space closer to $10.7 million.

They stand to gain another $3.25 million in cap space by releasing veteran receiver Michael Jenkins, who is due a $2.425 million roster bonus on March 16. That would give them nearly $14 million in cap space even if they're still carrying the sizeable cap numbers of end Jared Allen ($17,063,956), defensive tackle Kevin Williams ($7.5 million) and Winfield ($7.25 million).

It's not the virtually unlimited cap space enjoyed by the likes of Cincinnati ($54.5 million), Cleveland ($45.3 million), Indianapolis ($44.4 million) and Miami ($44.1 million). However, it would rank in the top half of the NFL and should be more than enough for the Vikings to do whatever business they feel is necessary with their own free agents and potential UFAs.

Allen, 30, remains productive but may be entering decline, is coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and has the largest cap number and base salary ($14,280,612) on the team in the last year of his deal.

Winfield, 35, is coming off a bounce-back season that unlocked the play-time incentive and kept his $7.25 million salary in 2013 from de-escalating. But he's not getting younger either and once again battled injuries down the stretch.

Williams, 32, may be the most likely to accept a pay cut because he'd be hard-pressed to get the $7 million he's due in each of the last two years of his deal on the open market. His agent, Tom Condon, was in the lobby of the hotel where the Vikings are staying on Wednesday night, though it was unclear if or when formal talks might occur here.

Besides Jenkins, the only Vikings approaching significant financial benchmarks are left guard Charlie Johnson, who is due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 16, and tight end John Carlson, who would have $1.2 million of his 2013 salary fully guaranteed if he's on the roster when the league year begins.

Cutting Johnson would clear another $2.55 million in cap space. Cutting Carlson wouldn't save anything against the cap in 2013 -- just cash on a player who struggled to stay healthy and find a role last season. Neither move seems likely, but the Vikings are keeping their plans quiet for now.

General manager Rick Spielman and Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings' vice president of football operations, have meetings scheduled with agents for their own pending free agents through Sunday. Discussions with other teams' UFAs technically can't begin until March 9.

Right tackle Phil Loadholt, fullback Jerome Felton and safety/special teams ace Jamarca Sanford top the Vikings' list of 10 unrestricted free agents. They also have one restricted free agent (cornerback A.J. Jefferson) and three exclusive-rights players who all figure to be tendered.

The only plausible candidate for the franchise or transition tag is Loadholt, whose agent has discussed an extension with the Vikings as far back as September. But the fear is Loadholt would sign the tender immediately and lock in a robust base salary of around $9.7 million (franchise) or $8.6 million (transition) for 2013.

A trade involving receiver Percy Harvin or anyone else technically can't be executed until 3 p.m. March 12 -- the same time free agency opens -- although discussions can occur anytime.

Harvin has no bonuses due in the last year of his rookie deal, just a $2.9 million base salary and possible workout bonuses. He has a little more than $1 million in bonus proration left for a cap number of $4,028,800.

The Vikings will meet here with Harvin's agent, Joel Segal, who also represents Jenkins and pending free agent receiver Devin Aromashodu

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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