Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman knows he needs to address his team’s offensive line woes. According to Jason La Canfora, Spielman isn’t wasting any time, as he’s already begun the search for help at tackle.
The Vikings join the New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, and New York Giants as potential suitors for Russell Okung, the recently-released Denver Broncos left tackle. Okung, a first-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2010, has started 88 games in his seven-year career. The 29-year-old veteran appeared in the 2012 Pro Bowl and finished 2016 as Pro Football Focus’s 38th-ranked tackle.
Around this time last year, Okung made the rare decision to represent himself in free agency. By doing so, he avoided paying a three-percent commission fee to an agent in his negotiations with the Broncos. Unfortunately, Okung’s decision backfired, as he walked away from the table with an abhorrently team-friendly contract. Here’s how the Denver Post broke down the five-year, $53 million deal:
“The first part of Okung’s contract is for one year and $5 million, not a penny of which is guaranteed before the start of the season. His base salary for 2016 will be $2 million, and he will get a $2 million roster bonus if he’s on the active roster for at least a game. Another $1 million will come his way if he participates in at least 90 percent of the team’s offseason workouts or his rehabilitation…If the Broncos exercise their $1 million option on Okung after the 2016 season, he could earn up to $48 million over another four years. But that is contingent upon him first making the team in 2016 and the Broncos deeming him valuable enough to keep for the additional years. If he sticks around for all five years of the contract, Okung could earn $31 million in salary, $20 million in roster bonuses, $1 million with the 2016 workout bonus and another $1 million with the 2017 option.”
Okung’s contract initially looked solid, but a lack of guaranteed money thrust all the power into John Elway’s hands. Guaranteed money nearly kept Adrian Peterson off the field in 2015, but Spielman negotiated and brought Peterson back with a few front-loaded incentives; however, Peterson’s Minnesota days could be numbered with no guaranteed money remaining on the restructured deal.
Taking advantage of the holes in Okung’s contract, the Broncos didn’t pick up his $1 million option and thus, parted ways with one of their starting tackles. Still, Okung defended his initial decision on The Player’s Tribune, writing that he’ll always bet on himself first before putting his future in the hands of a professional agent.
His mistake could reap the rewards for a tackle-needy team like the Vikings. Minnesota’s had its bout of bad luck with free agent tackles—Andre Smith, Jake Long—but Okung is relatively young and would be an instant upgrade over the likes of T.J. Clemmings, Matt Kalil, or Jeremiah Sirles. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s never finished a season with a lower grade than 64.6:
OT Russell Okung will become a free agent after the Broncos declined his option. A look at his career grades: pic.twitter.com/FlyjeZncO0
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 23, 2017
The salary cap tracking website, Spotrac, puts Kalil’s current market value at $7.1 million. Coming off hip surgery and a string of disappointing seasons, he’s not a lock to return to the Vikings. If Minnesota were to move on from their 2012 first-round pick, they’d be remiss to pass on making a strong push for Okung’s abundant talents.
He negotiated a $10.6 million salary last year, but it’s unlikely Okung will garner as much in free agency this offseason, especially with the full field of potential signees. The Vikings have the cap flexibility to pursue multiple free agent offensive linemen come March, and Okung is a name to monitor as the negotiating period approaches.