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Vikings cap hits: Linebackers

Breaking down each LB contract on the 53-man roster.

This article is part of a series focusing on the Minnesota Vikings’ salary cap. For this series I’m going to break down how much each player on the team’s roster counts towards the cap as well as shine a light on his current contract.


Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Eric Kendricks ($5,514,375) #9

Kendricks is probably the team’s second-best defender. The Vikings got an absolute steal when they signed him to a 5-year contract worth $50 million in 2018.

His average annual salary of $10 million is 15th among NFL linebackers, yet Kendricks’ overall value, per OTC’s valuation chart, was $12,036,000, which tells you he’s outplaying his contract by a pretty wide margin. Before he was injured, Kendricks had the second-highest value among all interior linebackers.

Despite only starting 11 games, the 28 year-old provided tremendous value in terms of performance over contract. If his production remains consistent for the next few seasons, the Vikings will continue to reap the benefits of this team-friendly contract. With three years remaining on his deal, here’s a look at his future cap hits.

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Eric Wilson ($3,259,000)

From a salary cap standpoint, it’ll be tough to retain Wilson beyond this season. As a restricted free agent, Wilson made $3,259,000 in 2020 after the Vikings placed a second-round tender on him in March.

Following a productive season, the former undrafted free agent could receive offers of $9 to $10 million per year on the open market.

That’s a number the Vikings cannot currently afford. They’re already dishing out $23.5 million per year paying linebackers Anthony Barr ($13.5M/year) and Eric Kendricks ($10M/year) and they’re projected to have over $31 million committed to the position in 2021, by far the most in the NFL. So, unless they’re planning to release Barr or move Wilson to defensive end, allocating another big contract to a linebacker when players like Troy Dye and Cameron Smith are on the depth chart would be a mistake.

In terms of performance and production, Wilson filled out the stat sheet this season. His three interceptions, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, 87 tackles (which led the team), and age (26) make him an attractive target in free agency – especially if he’s not setting the market with his contract.

And while he may have struggled against the run (37.3 run defense grade, per PFF) this season, Wilson played well above his contract value. According to OTC’s valuation chart, which depicts the value being provided by a player based on his on field performance relative to the current market for his position, Wilson’s 2020 performance equates to a value of $11,251,000, which is $7,992,000 above his cap hit. That’s noteworthy. It’s the highest value among 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL.

Because of these factors, Wilson should get paid this offseason.

As for the Vikings, allowing Wilson to become an unrestricted free agent appears to be the logical decision. His value is the highest it’s ever been. He might not get $10 million per season, but he’s due a hefty raise nonetheless.

The Vikings’ cap situation simply does not allow for a luxury (re-) signing at linebacker. Letting Wilson walk would result in the team recouping a compensatory pick, which would most likely fall in the 4th or 5th-round of the 2022 draft.

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Troy Dye* ($717,878)

The Vikings may have drafted Dye because they knew Wilson would be too expensive to retain. It’s too early to say whether or not he’ll be an impact player – he struggled mightily in five starts – but he has the tools to become a complementary role player, and hopefully more.

Because of all the injuries to the team’s linebackers, the 2020 fourth-round pick was forced into playing more than coaches had planned. Typically the Vikings coaching staff likes to ‘red-shirt’ rookies. Still, Dye was a solid special teams contributor, and with the return of Barr in 2021, he’ll likely assume a smaller, more manageable role on defense.

The 24 year-old is in the first of a four-year, $3.91 million rookie contract.

 

Ryan Connelly ($675,000)

Connelly (6-2, 236) appeared in 14 games this season, almost exclusively on special teams. According to PFF, his special teams grade was the 4th-highest on the team. That’s not saying much, but it shouldn’t be dismissed either.

He played only one snap on defense. It’s possible the team was easing him back into action this season after he tore his ACL in September 2019, but he was used plenty on special teams and an undrafted rookie started over him against New Orleans. That doesn’t exactly bode well for his future.

The Eden Prairie, Minnesota native was a fifth-round draft pick of the Giants in 2019. He showed promise in New York. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of role the Vikings have carved out for him in 2021, if any. Connelly is currently under contract for two more seasons (with cap hits of $850K and $965K).

Todd Davis ($661,765)

Davis, 28, was signed after Barr went on IR in September. Davis wasn’t exactly a valuable player for the Vikings this season, but that wasn’t his fault.

Kendricks and Wilson played most of the linebacker snaps and with Mike Zimmer relying heavily on nickel and dime packages, the team rarely had three linebackers on the field. Add to that a couple of missed games due to Covid-19 and a rib injury and the opportunities just weren’t there for Davis.

In six starts, he recorded 23 tackles, one sack and two passes broken up, earning him a 60.6 PFF grade. He showed promise in limited playing time.

With Barr likely returning in 2021, Davis could potentially return on another veteran’s minimum deal and compete for the nickel linebacker role with Dye and others.

Hardy Nickerson ($194,118)

Like Dye, Nickerson also had a PFF grade in the twenties this season. That’s not good. But, he only played 100 snaps on defense.

The 26 year-old was primarily used on special teams, where he actually provided some decent value. Still, I think the Vikings can get the same production from a younger player with more upside.

Nickerson will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Blake Lynch* ($107,647)

Acquired as an undrafted free agent from Baylor, Lynch (6-3, 225) made his first career start on Christmas Day. It didn’t go great, but the coaching staff must like what they see from the 23 year-old to play him ahead of more experienced players. He’s a versatile athlete who played five positions in college.

He may carve out a role on special teams and as a reserve next season. Lynch carries cap hits of $780K and $895K the next two years. If he’s on the roster at that point, he’ll become a restricted free agent after the 2022 season.


Vikings linebackers on injured reserve:

Image Courtesy of Vikings.com

Anthony Barr ($12,700,000) #3

Barr’s cap hit next season is $15,062,500, the third-highest figure on the team behind only Cousins ($31M) and Danielle Hunter ($17.75M). Is a restructure coming?

Restructures are generally reserved for players who are performing well and whom the team wants to keep for the remainder of their current deal. Hence the Kendricks and Hunter restructures as of late. Barr doesn’t fall into that category.

Furthermore, restructuring contracts shouldn’t be a practice the team relies upon every offseason. It just pushes huge chunks of money down the road. For example, the Vikings could restructure Barr’s deal if needed. Doing so would result in immediate cap savings of up to $7.3 million, but his cap hits in 2022 and 2023 would rise considerably, up to $19.5M and $22M, respectively, and more dead money would be added to these later years. In terms of cap flexibility, it’s an option that hurts the team long-term.

For those reasons, I believe it’s unlikely the Vikings re-work Barr’s contract.

Seeking a pay cut might be the most likely option if the team is desperate to create cap space. Negotiations could be interesting, however, as taking less money doesn’t make much sense from Barr’s perspective, especially considering the performance of the defense this season.

This is a subject worth revisiting once the official 2021 cap figure is known. 

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Cameron Smith ($675,000)

Smith underwent open heart surgery in August to repair a defect that was discovered after he tested positive for Covid-19. He’s determined to make a comeback and play again for the Vikings. He ended the season on the reserve/non-football illness list.


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Sean Borman

Sean Borman is a writer with Minnesota roots that's a Vikings optimist. He was an intern with the Vikings during college and is an IT nerd by day. You can find him on the golf course during summer and on Twitter @SeanBormanNFL.

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