But what isn't exactly known is how much money each team has to spend. Contracts can be re-worked. Overpriced veterans can get cut. It's a fluid situation. There is also a potential $1.5 million carryover from 2011 that was part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement reached last July – it was the part of the "Lawyerball" that the rank and file players had little to no clue was being determined, but was part of the deal their union reps approved and ratified.
Another aspect of the "lawyer-ing" of the CBA was that the owners and players union worked it out that the salary cap is based on the contract of the 51 highest-paid players on a roster. By the late afternoon of March 13, the total salary commitment to those 51 players has to be at or below the established salary cap.
Here's where it gets complicated – as if it wasn't already complicated enough. The NFL is essentially a band of 32 companies under the same umbrella. Some spend lavishly. Others are frugal. How they arrive at contracts is unique and individual to each team. Example: When Daunte Culpepper signed his enormous 10-year, $102 million contract in 2003, it included $5 million if he played on more than half of the team's special teams plays – $500,000 a year in the event the Vikings wanted to use their franchise quarterback as a wedge-buster on kicks and punts. Suffice to say, contract language is not an exact science.
In the coming days, teams' cap standings are likely to change dramatically. Teams like the Raiders have to shave off millions to get under the salary cap. With no first-round pick thanks to the Carson Palmer lunacy, Oakland can only rebuild with the draft because they won't have the money – barring a veteran purge – to get under the cap. So, what is the cap? Good question. We're still waiting on a good answer.
Based on the conventional wisdom and numbers-crunching types, when the salary cap figure is finally announced it is anticipated to be in the $122 million range. It likely won't be much higher, but could be lower. Based on the only factor we currently know – the salary cap obligations currently reserved for the top 51 players on NFL rosters, here is a very general view of where teams stand heading into March. Much can (and will) change in the next two weeks, but these are the approximate figures based on a $122 million salary cap as they currently stand.
Oakland -- $23.7 million over.
New York Giants -- $7.1 million over
Carolina -- $6.5 million over
Dallas -- $2.3 million over
Detroit -- $1 million over
New York Jets -- $1.1 million under
Green Bay -- $1.3 million under
Pittsburgh -- $1.5 million under
Houston -- $3.1 million under
St. Louis -- $4 million under
Arizona -- $4.3 million under
Baltimore -- $5.7 million under
Minnesota -- $6 million under
Philadelphia -- $9.2 million under
San Diego -- $9.2 million under
Miami -- $9.3 million under
Seattle -- $12 million under
New Orleans -- $12.4 million under
Kansas City -- $13.1 million under
Indianapolis -- $14.5 million under
Jacksonville -- $14.7 million under
San Francisco $16.1 million under
Buffalo -- $17.3 million under
Cleveland -- $18.6 million under
New England -- $19.4 million under
Chicago -- $20.1 million under
Atlanta -- $20.5 million under
Denver -- $23.3 million under
Tennessee -- $27.5 million under
Washington -- $28.5 million under
Tampa Bay -- $29.3 million under
Cincinnati $38.5 million under
The more important numbers currently are those teams with the most to spend. Who would have ever thought Daniel Snyder could have so much money to burn? Peyton Manning could suck up a lot of that, but the good news for football fans is Snyder once again has the available cash to make a splashy signing in the vein of Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith – lead-pipe locks as first-ballot Hall of Famers that were made offers they couldn't in good conscience refuse. Has anything changed since then? Ask Albert Haynseworth and Donovan McNabb. Fortunately for the rest of the NFL, the Brown family never met a Bengal buck they didn't want to keep, so expect to see them not be as active in free agency as their cap clearance would indicate.
The good news for the Vikings is that, if they choose to be more proactive than those who have served as their landlords the last 30 years, they are in decent shape to make a legitimate run at free-agent talent. With just a couple of roster moves, they could double their available cap space and the Vikings have always been masters of working the cap to their advantage.
It's not going to be an even playing field in free agency. Some teams will have a lot more money to offer than others. This is where the NFL gets interesting. How do they invest and who do they invest in? We have a general view of the playing field, but a lot of business is going to take place in the next two weeks.
And this is the "offseason."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.