Vikings Offseason Preview: In-House Free Agents
After coming up one game short of the Super Bowl, the Lombardi Trophy continues to elude the Vikings franchise. Not only did losing the NFC Championship game suck, losing offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will present its own challenges for the 2018 offseason.
Luckily for the team and its fans, the there’s a silver lining to the situation — much of the team’s roster will return in 2018.
More than that, the Vikings have put themselves in solid financial position moving forward. As I hinted in my previous salary cap update, Minnesota’s front office is rather efficient at managing the salary cap. I even went as far as to praise general manager Spielman for his work in the 2017 offseason.
With only $654K allocated to dead cap hits in 2018, OverTheCap.com (OTC) estimates the Vikings will have roughly $57 million in salary cap to play with this offseason.
Let’s take a look at what the Vikings could do with that money, starting with their in-house free agents, whose contracts expired after the season.
- UFA = Unrestricted Free Agent
- Players with four or more accrued seasons
- Accrued = at least six in-season weeks on an NFL roster
- Free to sign with any NFL team
- Not subject to right of first refusal or draft pick compensation
- RFA = Restricted Free Agent
- Players with three accrued seasons
- Current franchise given right of first refusal on any offered contract
- Current team may receive draft pick compensation depending on level of tender offered
- Possible tenders include first-round, second-round, original-round, and right of first refusal only
- In 2017, first-round tenders were valued at $3.91 million, second-round tenders were $2.746 million, and original-round and low-level tenders were $1.797 million
- ERFA = Exclusive Rights Free Agent
- Players with two or fewer accrued seasons
- Must sign with current team
- Becomes UFA if not offered a contract by current team
- G Joe Berger: $2.1 million in 2017
- DT Sharrif Floyd: $4.7 million in 2017
- CB Terence Newman: $3.6 million in 2017
Re-sign or let walk
- Case Keenum (Age 29, 6-foot-1, 205 lbs)
- Teddy Bridgewater (Age 25, 6-foot-2, 215 lbs)
- Sam Bradford (Age 30, 6-foot-4, 225 lbs)
In all likelihood, quarterback is going to be priority No. 1 for the team this offseason. The Vikings have three decisions to make regarding their future at quarterback.
Whether or not the team gives Case Keenum a contract depends on a few things. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is now the head coach of the New York Giants, and it’s possible Keenum wants to follow him there. Based on his performance during the regular season, keeping the QB in purple seems like the most logical decision. But, based on his performance down the stretch, Keenum may have diminished the chances of Minnesota offering him a multi-year extension. At more than $20 million per season, the franchise tag may be off the table as well. That’ll make negotiations a little more interesting.
Just like the decision with Keenum, all eyes will be on what the team chooses to do with Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings declined his fifth-year option last May in wake of a career-threatening knee injury. Despite the grim prognosis, Bridgewater returned to the field much sooner than expected. We all know the team’s staff loves him. Will the Vikings offer Bridgewater a big extension to stick around, more of a prove-it deal like Robert Griffin III got from the Cleveland Browns (2-years, $15 million)? Or, will they let him venture into free agency?
The mysterious Sam Bradford is not likely in the team’s future plans. That is, of course, unless he’s willing to take a massive pay cut and settle for a competition, which at this point may not be out of the question. Head coach Mike Zimmer apparently thinks that Bradford is over his knee issues, but I’m betting the team will let the oft-injured quarterback walk in order to gain a possible compensatory pick in return for his departure.
- Jerick McKinnon (Age 26, 5-foot-9, 205 lbs)
- Mack Brown (Age 26, 5-foot-11, 215 lbs)
- Bishop Sankey (Age 25, 5-foot-10, 210 lbs)
McKinnon has shown enough promise for a team to take a chance on him as a possible starter. According to Courtney Cronin of ESPN, he feels that he’s earned a larger role and will test free agency. The Vikings already have Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray under contract for 2018. As nice as it would be to have ‘Jet’ back, it’s unlikely the team will be willing to dish out the amount of money McKinnon is seeking.
According to OTC, McKinnon could fetch up to $4 million per year on the open market. The Texans, Raiders, Seahawks, Broncos, and Cowboys are teams that could suit McKinnon’s skill set.
Brown and Sankey are depth players that will likely compete for McKinnon’s roster spot if the team opts to re-sign them.
- Michael Floyd (Age 28, 6-foot-2, 220 lbs)
Floyd had a very underwhelming season. The 28 year-old had 10 catches for 78 yards. He competed with both Laquon Treadwell and Jarius Wright for targets and came out on the losing end. It’s tough to envision the Vikings bringing back Floyd when they have Stacy Coley, Rodney Adams, and Cayleb Jones on the roster.
Both Easton and Sirles are restricted free agents and will be offered tenders by the Vikings. The probable retirement of Joe Berger leaves the Vikings with a glaring hole at right guard. His departure also gives the team even more incentive to re-sign both players, each of whom can play guard. Despite Easton’s broken ankle and the duo’s low 2017 PFF grades (Easton 41.5 and Sirles 45.4), both players will compete for a starting role in 2018.
The Vikings have some interesting decisions to make at defensive tackle this offseason. Tom Johnson had a good season at 3-technique. In 15 starts, he registered 17 tackles, three tackles for a loss, and two sacks, finishing with a 78.9 PFF grade. However, he’ll be 34 next season, and Johnson made $2.35 million in 2017. At that price — and at his age — the Vikings might be willing to bring Johnson back as insurance if they can’t find a replacement starter.
Shamar Stephen also had a solid season. He only had one start, but as part of the defensive line rotation, he played in 15 games. To go along with a 73.1 PFF grade, Stephen had nine tackles and his first career sack. Although he’s a better run-stuffer than pass rusher, he’s earned a second contract. Whether or not he gets offered one from the Vikings remains to be seen. Stephen made $1.8 million in 2017.
With Johnson aging, Sharrif Floyd likely retiring, and Stephen’s contract expiring, the Vikings may turn to young Jaleel Johnson to fill a much larger role in 2018. While it’s entirely possible the team brings back one or both of the tackles for the right price, the Vikings could benefit from a reshuffling of the defensive line.
- Emmanuel Lamur (Age 28, 6-foot-4, 245 lbs.)
Lamur is a special teams ace and has been with Mike Zimmer since his days in Cincinnati. Lamur signed a 2-year contract with the Vikings in 2016 worth $5.5 million. Due to the emergence of linebackers Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Ben Gedeon, Lamur has turned into more of a luxury than a need.
It’s unlikely the Vikings offer Lamur a contract in the same vicinity as his last one, because that’s a lot to pay a backup. Plus, the Vikings are looking so save some money to extend their young, core players. Lamur is not one of them. He would, however, be a nice player to have back if the two sides can find middle ground on terms of a contract. The team also has linebackers Eric Wilson, Kentrell Brothers, Antwione Williams, and Shaan Washington on the roster.
- Marcus Sherels (Age 30, 5-foot-10, 175 lbs.)
- Tramaine Brock (Age 29, 5-foot-10, 200 lbs.)
- Anthony Harris (Age 26, 6-foot-1, 195 lbs.)
The underrated Marcus Sherels has stuck around longer than anyone expected him to. The nifty punt returner has earned himself another contract with the Vikings, and I think the two sides will be able to come to an agreement before he makes it to free agency.
Brock may or may not be brought back for around the league minimum. The team obviously liked him enough to trade a 2018 seventh-round draft pick for him during the season, but it’s tough to know if they’ll bring back a fringe player like Brock.
As evidenced by his 81.5 PFF grade, Anthony Harris has been a very solid player. In three games started this season, Harris collected 11 tackles and recovered two fumbles. There’s no question the Vikings will offer Harris a tender as a restricted free agent to bring him back in 2018.
The Vikings already have a great pair of safeties in Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo. Smith is one of the best safeties in the NFL and is locked up through 2021. So is the team willing to pay Sendejo $3.5 million and $5.5 million the next two seasons? If not, Harris looks ready to take over as starter.
The kicking job is Kai’s to lose. His issues with extra points faded as the season went on, but he wasn’t exactly a beacon of consistency. If the Vikings can re-sign Forbath to a 1-year, reasonably cheap extension without a major bonus, that would be ideal. That way, the team can scour the free agent market or draft possible replacements (if they want). Due to how things played out with former kicker Blair Walsh, I don’t see Spielman handing out a big contract to a kicker anytime soon.
Overbaugh was brought in by the Vikings after a shoulder injury took out starting long-snapper Kevin McDermott in Week 16. The team will likely part ways with Overbaugh, unless they’d like to have competition at long snapper this offseason. While I wouldn’t put it past Slick Rick to do so, there are much more useful ways to fill out a roster.
ICYMI Most projected cap room 2018
1 SF- $117.8M
2 Cle- $117.5M
3 Ind- $87M
4 NYJ- $77.6M
5 TB- $65.7M
6 WAS- $58.7M
7 Min- $57.2M
— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) October 23, 2017
By May 3rd, the Vikings will need to decide if they’d like to pick up or decline the fifth-year option of cornerback Trae Waynes. It’s expected the Vikings will choose to pick up the option, which will be the average salary of the third-to-25th highest paid cornerbacks of 2018.
Considering the cost of the option, Waynes could be a candidate for long-term contract extension.
Before the 2017 season, the Vikings extended the contracts of DE Everson Griffen, CB Xavier Rhodes, and DT Linval Joseph. If the team has leftover cap room over after free agency this offseason, the team could choose to extend one or more of the following players a year early. All are free agents after the 2018 season.
Possible cap casualties
Since the Vikings don’t have a ton of holes to fill on the roster, it’s tough to envision a ton of cap space being used this offseason. But, if the team extends contracts, signs outside free agents, and needs some extra money to work with, the following players have the most cap-friendly contracts to terminate:
- RB Latavius Murray: $6.4 million salary – $1.2 million dead cap hit = Saves $5.2 million
- WR Jarius Wright: $4.7 million cap salary – $2.1 million dead cap hit = Saves $2.6 million
- S Andrew Sendejo: $3.5 million cap salary – zero dead cap hit = Saves $3.5 million
- TE Kyle Rudolph: $7.7 million cap salary – $1.3 million dead cap hit = Saves $6.4 million
- DE Brian Robison: $3.5 million cap salary – zero dead cap hit = Saves $3.5 million
During a January 10th press conference coach Zimmer was asked if he has the defensive personnel he wants. He replied, “You’re always looking for a little bit more. I mean, Rick’s got my wish list for next year already…I feel like we could be really good on defense if we get a couple other things.”
DT, DE, LB and CB are among the Vikings top needs on defense. Minnesota will select at #30.