Minnesota Vikings salary cap update
This offseason, despite having over $20 million in salary cap space, the Vikings chose to hang onto their money rather than sign some notable free agents. It was a puzzling move at the time. The offensive line needed help and there were still quite a few positions to fill. But fast forward to now, and the decision makes complete sense.
The team used the excess cap space to lock up its best core defenders. In addition to the three contract extensions of defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes that were inked this preseason, standout safety Harrison Smith signed a 5-year, $51 million contract last year. The last two offseasons, the Vikings committed $135 million in guaranteed money to four defensive starters.
Because of the enormous salaries top defenders command, it has been difficult for NFL teams to keep an elite defense intact for very long. However, the Vikings front office has shown they’re committed to doing just that. Financially, they have put the team in a strong position to succeed for the long haul.
Let me tell you why.
According to Spotrac, the Vikings currently have $10.67 million in cap space.
2017 Dead Cap
Dead money is the money owed to a player after they’ve been cut/traded. The recent injury settlements of quarterback Taylor Heinicke, tight end Bucky Hodges and defensive end Datone Jones resulted in the Vikings taking on additional cap hits.
The team now has $10.21 million in dead money on the books for 2017.
According to Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune, of the $10.21 million that counts against the Vikings salary cap, $8.54 million has come from offensive linemen. Former Viking linemen Alex Boone will be paid $3.5 million, Brandon Fusco $1.65 million, Willie Beavers $401K, John Sullivan $333K, and T.J. Clemmings $131K.
Other notable 2017 dead cap hits include defensive lineman Datone Jones at $1.84 million and now-Seattle Seahawks kicker Blair Walsh at $1.65 million.
The Vikings’ dead money amount may seem like a lot, but according to Spotrac, the team has averaged $7.77 million in dead money since 2011. In fact, the largest amount of dead money on record was in 2012, when the Vikings had $11.12 million.
With many of the dead money contracts expiring after the season, the Vikings will only carry over $468K of dead money into 2018. By comparison, the Dallas Cowboys have over $11.5 million committed to dead money next season.
Table courtesy of Spotrac.
Change In Philosophy?
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert echoed Goessling’s indication that the Vikings showed a change in their traditional salary cap philosophy by extending the contracts of two star defenders (Griffen and Joseph) two years before their deals expired. Traditionally, the Vikings have always waited to make such moves until the last season of the player’s deal.
While the extensions may be seen as a change in philosophy, it may also simply reflect two defensive players, among the best at their positions in the NFL, out-playing their original contracts. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman shed some light on this issue:
“As we always have, we have not only cap-planned for this year but for future years,” Spielman said. “We have some significant contracts and significant young players coming up, so to get, I wouldn’t say ahead of the curve, but to get some of this out of the way now, it is going to give a lot more flexibility as we go forward into next year and future years.”
The preseason contract extensions of Griffen, Joseph and Rhodes shaped out to be team-friendly deals. Like the contracts of Kyle Rudolph and Harrison Smith, none of them include guaranteed money in the last year of the deal.
With flexible player contracts, the Vikings have a substantial advantage in upcoming seasons. Even though these star players are making a lot of money, the contracts are front-loaded, and team has complete control over the players in the non-guaranteed money years. Essentially, the last year of their contract acts as a team option.
DE Everson Griffen (4-years, $58 million)
DT Linval Joseph (4-years, $50 million)
CB Xavier Rhodes (5-years, $70 million)
|Year||Base Salary (Guaranteed)||Bonuses||Cap
|% Of Cap||
Dead Money & Cap Savings
For instance, take a look at Rhodes’ deal. Once the guaranteed money expires in his contract (in 2022), the team can wipe his salary off the books without taking a dead money penalty, meaning the Vikings can cut or trade him for free (if they want).
The team-friendly contracts and minimal dead money will provide the Vikings with enough financial flexibility and cap space in future years to continue to re-sign their own players as well as make marquee signings in free agency in order to bolster the roster around the already-secured core players.
The Vikings have roughly $41 million in cap space for 2018.
At first glance, it appears Spielman and his staff have essentially created a five-year “window of opportunity.” Depending on how things play out, there could be massive roster turnover after the 2021 season.
The contracts of Griffen, Rhodes, and Joseph contain no guaranteed money after the 2021 season. The team also signed two offensive tackles this offseason to five-year deals. Tackles Riley Reiff (5-years, $58 million) and Mike Remmers (5-years, $30 million) have contracts that expire the same season.
Focusing on the more immediate future, VT’s BJ Reidell wrote about Vikings who are entering their contract year this season. Since then, Rhodes was extended and a few players were waived, but he noted the team must continue to budget wisely as there are five key starters that could command top-tier money if they hit free agency following the 2018 season.
- DE Danielle Hunter (2017: $792K cap hit, 2018: $892K cap hit, 2019: UFA)
- MLB Eric Kendricks (2017: $1.4 million cap hit, 2018: $1.6 million cap hit, 2019: UFA)
- WR Stefon Diggs (2017: $671K cap hit, 2018: $761K cap hit, 2019: UFA)
- LB Anthony Barr (2017: $4 million cap hit, 2018: $12.3 million cap hit, 2019: UFA)
- CB Trae Waynes (2017: $3.5 million cap hit, 2018: $4.1 million cap hit, 2019: Team option)
It’s entirely possible the Vikings could employ their “new” philosophy of extending players two years early so they’re not stuck trying to extend all five starters during the same offseason. However, all these players are still playing under their rookie contracts at a value to the team, so it would be highly unlikely for the Vikings to approach any of them before the final year of their deal.
If he plays closer to expectations this year, Barr, who had his fifth-year option picked up by the Vikings, could be the most likely candidate for an extension this offseason, as the team would like to ease his cap hit of $12.3 million for 2018.
Look for negotiations to begin with the Vikings and Hunter, Kendricks, and Diggs in the offseason while Waynes must continue to show improvement in order for the team to pick up his 5th-year option in 2019.
We’ve seen how the Vikings have prepared for the future by keeping their young defensive core intact. But what about the offense?
It appears as though the Vikings front office has no idea what the future will bring at the quarterback position — and the player contracts reflect that. Quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, and Case Keenum are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the season.
Third-string QB Kyle Sloter is the only Vikings quarterback under contract beyond 2017, albeit with no guaranteed money. With potentially no financial commitment to any quarterback on the roster beyond this season, the Vikings are in a unique situation.
The team chose not extend Bradford this offseason after he broke the NFL single season completion percentage record last year. Now, with Bradford’s injury issues returning, it makes sense why the Vikings didn’t commit to him long-term. But, the Vikings are at risk of losing him and/or Bridgewater without receiving anything more than a compensatory pick if an extension isn’t reached with either one of them.
Like BJ Reidell said, Bradford could command a triple-digit contract next season (especially if he leads the Vikings deep in the playoffs). Bridgewater, while less expensive, will likely command starter money if he returns to the field. With the cost of franchising a quarterback estimated at $22 million in 2018, the Vikings have some interesting decisions ahead.