- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Rob Brzezinski, vice president of football operations for the Minnesota Vikings, may have earned a spot in the NFL salary cap Hall of Fame for his maneuvers over the past year.
By creating $14 million of "false" incentives in 2003, Brzezinski put the Vikings in the best cap position of any team in recent years other than expansion franchises. The Vikings have more than $14 million of extra room after adjustments were made in the $80,582,000 million cap. That extra cushion means the Vikings cap number in 2004 can be $94,888,323, in excess of $9 million more than the next closest team.
The Vikings head into free agency with $33.3 million of room and only four unrestricted free agents to re-sign.
"In 1998, we had to take apart the team because we had been the playoffs every year and we were trying to keep it together to go for a Super Bowl," Brezisnki said. "This team has a good young nucleus and, with this cap room, we should be able to hold it together for five to seven years."
The Vikings got off to a 6-0 start but faded down the stretch and eventually lost the NFC North title to the Packers. But solid drafts along with the development of quarterback Daunte Culpepper and wide receiver Randy Moss have the Vikings getting close to passing the Packers.
Brzezinski tried to do his part by managing the cap to put the team in position to acquire players and keep the best young ones once their contracts expire. The Vikings were among the league leaders in cap room last year. His strategy involved creating "likely to be earned" incentives that would be given as credits in the 2004 season if they weren't achieved.
More and more teams are doing that salary cap trick if they don't exhaust all of their salary cap in a particular year. To create false incentives, the team would write a clause in a contract that would be hard to achieve. For example, Seahawks linebacker Isiah Kacyvenski, a backup last season, would have had to intercept five passes in the season finale to hit a $2.1 million incentive.
When that incentive wasn't achieved, the $2.1 million is carried over to the next year's cap as a credit. The Eagles freed up $4.6 million of extra room by using this tactic on three players, mostly backups.
By having so much cap room, the Vikings won't have to eat up big portions of future caps with signing bonus prorations. In the salary cap, signing bonuses are prorated over the length of the contract. For example, a $1 million signing bonus on a four-year deal counts $250,000 in the first year and $250,000 in each of the final three years.
With $33 million of cap room, the Vikings can write deals with big roster bonuses and count them this year without taking much money out of future caps.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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