MINNEAPOLIS -- We talked this morning about the rising NFL salary cap and how veteran players like former Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (in whom the Vikings are reported to have interest) could find a kinder free-agent market this spring than they have in the past. What we didn't discuss was the projections for the salary cap in future years. Those figures, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, are expected to be stratospheric.
Schefter reports the cap will likely increase from $132 million in 2014 to over $140 million in 2015. It will surpass $150 million in 2016, Schefter reports, as new TV money juices the league's revenue even more. Teams aren't required to spend to the cap, but they must spend an average of at least 89 percent of the cap in cash on a four-year basis from 2013-16, and again from 2017-20. In other words, the NFL's rising financial tide will lift all boats, in one form or another.
Where will the money go? It's a good bet we'll see some of it handed out in the form of new deals for young quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick in coming years. Those QBs are all playing on their rookie deals, and they have six playoff appearances, four Pro Bowls, two Super Bowl trips and one championship between them. In other words, they've all delivered big results for their teams on the most cap-friendly contracts they'll ever have.
That brings us to the Vikings, and another aspect of their search for a franchise quarterback this spring. They've played with remarkably small expenses at the quarterback position for some time -- they've been in the league's bottom quarter of cap commitments at quarterback for six of the past nine seasons -- and thanks to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, the Vikings are now in an era where they can get big-time production from a young quarterback before having to pay for it.
The financial reality means that if the Vikings can find the right quarterback in the draft this spring, they'll have every incentive to get him on the field quickly. It would certainly be a prudent move to sign the much-discussed veteran bridge this spring, whether that's by bringing back Matt Cassel or finding another quarterback on the open market, but if the Vikings get a franchise-caliber quarterback, the league's salary structure incentivizes them to play him quickly. If he can produce early, he'll also produce cheaply, and the Vikings could fill other holes under the league's rising cap ceiling, much like the 49ers and Seahawks have been able to do while going to Super Bowls with quarterbacks on their rookie deals.
None of this is to say the Vikings should rush a young quarterback into action; if he can't play, he can't play, and we've seen with Christian Ponder the organizational consequences of trusting a young quarterback who doesn't get the job done. But there's a major financial advantage waiting for teams who can get a young quarterback on the field quickly. It's why the days of Aaron Rodgers-like apprenticeships are essentially over, and why the Vikings can get ahead of the game, financially and competitively, if they make the right moves at quarterback in the draft.