EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Tuesday that he's impressed with the way that the Vikings coaching staff and players have managed a multitude of injuries.
In addition to presenting challenges that have been overcome on the field, the bevy of injuries —including placement of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Adrian Peterson, left tackle Matt Kalil and right tackle Andre Smith on injured reserve in the past six weeks — has pushed Minnesota to its limit of remaining salary cap space.
The Vikings have eight players on injured reserve, plus Taylor Heinicke on the non-football injury and Mike Harris on the non-football illness list.
"We've dealt with a lot of injuries," Spielman said during a session with Twin Cities media members on Tuesday. "I think we're almost at, or right around, $33 million that are on injured reserve, which is a pretty significant piece of your player costs, at this point. I think that just like the coaches, players, this whole building has a no-excuse mentality; we've tried to do everything we can."
The $33 million is approximately 21 percent of the roughly $156 million cap figure for 2016
Spielman credited Vikings Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski for finding a way to sign veteran tackle Jake Long after Smith was placed on injured reserve.
"When we do have and suffer through some of the injuries and adversities we've had to face so far, you have the combination of our scouts and personnel people working their rear ends off to try to find the best solutions out there," Spielman said. "You're working with Rob Brzezinski and the cap on how it can work financially, and then when we're able to bring in new players, the coaches are doing an unbelievable job to try to get them caught up as quickly as they can.
"The guys that we're trying to bring in are guys that we feel can definitely fit with what we've built in that locker room from a character standpoint and from the type of mentality that we've tried to develop with this football team," Spielman added.
After Bridgewater was lost for the season, Spielman worked on a trade to acquire Sam Bradford in a way that would leave a little wiggle room as a contingency.
"I think last week we were under $50,000 in cap room, and I think Rob, with his little magic wand, was able to create some cap room so we could get Jake Long [signed]," Spielman said. "But again, we're pretty much strapped against the cap right now with the amount of money we have on IR and what we're able to do going forward."
Spielman said the Vikings didn't restructure with a player; they "just did some things."
Bradford is 4-0 for the Vikings, who enter their bye week as the NFL's lone undefeated team.
Spielman said he does not anticipate additional roster moves this week.
Designated to return option remains in play
The Vikings still have not exercised their option to designate one player who was on the 53-man roster at the time of final reductions as "designated to return."
After Peterson was placed on injured reserve after Week 2, the Vikings added free agent Ronnie Hillman. So far, however, Hillman has been inactive, catching up with the offense as Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata have filled the void.
Peterson, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus, would be eligible for the designated-to-return distinction, but there is no guarantee.
Asked to assess Peterson through the first two games, Spielman said, "Adrian was kind of getting back into it, I think, because we adjusted some things offensively. Our offensive line was still trying to jell early when he played in those first couple of games.
"Usually Adrian becomes stronger as the season goes along and as the games progress, so I look at it as he's going to do everything he can to get back," Spielman said. "I look at it also as at least eight, nine weeks of not taking hits on that body, which is going to make him pretty fresh."
Spielman also was asked about the long run for Peterson.
"At the end of the season, we'll assess everything, where we're at," Spielman said. "I have looked a lot at what our 2017 roster is going to look like and some of the significant contracts that we may have coming up and some of the guys that we may not be able to afford to keep, so you're always planning to look ahead on that front."
Evaluation of Long
Long practiced for the first time in purple on Tuesday, the only practice day this week for the Vikings. He recognized familiar faces, from offensive line coach Tony Sparano and center Joe Berger, to Bradford and Shaun Hill.
Spielman said he and the personnel department evaluated a significant amount of footage of available players before opting to go with Long, who played four games as a backup in Atlanta in 2015 but has 96 career starts.
"He was with Atlanta last year, and I think he only played maybe 10 or 11 snaps but was in a backup position. We brought in other guys as well yesterday, and when you look at it, he hasn't had a training camp, so he was relatively healthy when he came in for the physical," Spielman said. "He passed our physical, or we wouldn't have signed him. I know that he was a pretty good football player when he was healthy, so we felt that it was the best option for us out there, and that's what went into the decision."
Spielman said it's too early to project a role for Long or know whether he can return to the form that led to four Pro Bowl selections before injuries caught up with him.
"What we're trying to do is, when we have to go out there and find replacement players, even when we lost Adrian and we knew Ronnie Hillman would help us at some point, we'll just see how it evolves," Spielman said. "But I know, one, that his pedigree as a football player – when he's healthy – he's a pretty good player. And two, I know the character that he has and the mentality that he plays with. It fits into our culture here."