I took a moment Wednesday morning to read through your feedback via Twitter mentions and the mailbag. Much of it centered around the departures of two key Minnesota Vikings players this week, and a few were represented by this comment via Twitter from @HinrichsRuss:
@espn_nfcnblog As season ticket holder - I can't help but feel the Vikings are cutting salary on orders from ownership. Other explanation?
— Russ Hinrichs (@HinrichsRuss) March 13, 2013
I understand where you're coming from. You've seen the Vikings trade receiver Percy Harvin, who received a six-year contract worth $67 million from the Seattle Seahawks. Right tackle Phil Loadholt received a premium contract extension Tuesday worth $25 million over four years, but minutes later the Vikings released cornerback Antoine Winfield and his $7.25 million salary. And at the moment, there are no indications the Vikings plan to host a free agent who would command a big salary.
Vikings fans earned the right to be suspicious during the tenure of former owner Red McCombs, who openly and deeply cut back expenses when it became clear he was not going to secure public funding for a new stadium. In this instance, all I can tell you is that a financial cutback would represent a 180-degree reversal from owner Zygi Wilf's previous approach. To think it would come less than a year after approval of $498 million in public subsidies for a new stadium would be downright conspiratorial.
I'm all for conspiracies, but we should at least consider the facts here. As Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com has noted, the Vikings have spent nearly $1 billion (in cash, not cap space) on player salaries since Wilf bought the team from McCombs in 2005. Their raw payroll figure of $922 million ranks second among all NFL teams over that span, a status that should at least give the Vikings the benefit of the doubt at the moment.
Some of that financial commitment stretches into the 2013 season. Defensive end Jared Allen ($14.2 million), running back Adrian Peterson ($11.5 million) and linebacker Chad Greenway ($7 million) are scheduled to earn a combined $32.7 million alone. That number would increase to $40.2 million if the Vikings don't adjust the salary of defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who is scheduled to earn $7.5 million.
There is an indisputable drop-off from that point, but is that based on a budget limitation or is it the quantified version of general manager Rick Spielman's oft-stated philosophy? The Vikings committed last season to young players, who in most cases were highly drafted, at quarterback, left tackle, free safety, cornerback and place-kicker. They quite simply aren't eligible yet for big contracts.
Spielman said Tuesday that "the philosophy here is putting an emphasis on signing your own back." If that's the case, the Vikings eventually will spend big on contract extensions for quarterback Christian Ponder, left tackle Matt Kalil, safety Harrison Smith, cornerbacks Chris Cook and Josh Robinson and place-kicker Blair Walsh. In the overall arc of team-building, the Vikings are at an inexpensive stage.
It's true that Spielman referred to the departures of Harvin and Winfield as "business moves," but I assume he meant it in a way to dispute that personal issues were involved in either decision. Finances might have played a role in the Harvin trade, but only in the context that the Vikings must not have felt comfortable paying him a major contract given the behind-the-scenes misgivings they must have felt. And as we discussed Tuesday, the Vikings had part-time plans for Winfield in 2013 that wouldn't have merited a $7.25 million salary.
For the moment, we're left to assume that the Vikings' current spending habits are a function of their philosophy rather than a cause of it. We'll know soon enough.