Vikings cap hits: Offensive line

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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.

Riley Reiff ($8,200,000) #6

In order to facilitate a trade for Yannick Ngakoue, the Vikings gave Reiff an ultimatum before the season: Take a $5M pay cut or be released. Ultimately, he chose to take less money to stay with the team.

When Reiff restructured, per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, a trigger was added to his deal which includes a $5 million roster bonus to be paid on March 19th, the third day of the new league year.

“A decision one way or the other will certainly be made before that roster bonus is due,” wrote Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus. The decision, likely the biggest one the Vikings will need to make on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, will have massive implications on how the front five is constructed.

Reiff has been a cornerstone at left tackle for four years. At $13.95 million, his 2021 cap hit is 11th-most among NFL left tackles. That’s a fair deal for the ninth-most valuable player at his position. But with salary cap restraints, could the trigger in his contract lead the Vikings to think of him as Riley… Relief?

It’s possible the Vikings could approach Reiff about taking another pay cut like they did before the season. But after a solid year on the field, it’s tough to see him accepting less money, again. It’s also tough to justify from the team’s standpoint.

Reiff, 32, had a great 2020 season. According to PFF he was the team’s best pass-blocker among starters. He allowed one sack in over 1,000 snaps and tied a career low with one penalty. As a result of his performance (as well as his position), he was the Vikings’ most valuable offensive lineman.

Because of those reasons, the team might be tempted to extend Reiff. Doing so would likely lower his 2021 cap hit and also give the Vikings one less position to fill on the offensive line this offseason. However, it would make things tricky from a financial standpoint.

As things stand now, Reiff’s contract is conveniently set to expire the same offseason Brian O’Neill needs to get paid. Extending Reiff beyond 2021 would handcuff the team’s spending greatly. With a handful of needs on the roster, it makes more sense to save that money and fill the position with someone younger and cheaper who’s already on the roster.

Cutting Reiff would save the team $11.75 million in cap space and create $2.2 million in dead money. It would allow the team to create a path for O’Neill or Ezra Cleveland to take over at left tackle and perhaps more importantly, reserve future funds to pay O’Neill. But the Vikings are in a position of power here. They shouldn’t just let Reiff go for nothing.

“Could see a trade,” wrote Spielberger. “He was alright this year. And I’ve heard he’s a locker room favorite.”

When it comes to determining Reiff’s value, much of that will depend on the overall cap environment. If the cap is closer to the floor ($175M), his value decreases and a cut or paycut seems more likely. If it’s closer to $190M, as Spielberger predicts, then Reiff still has value and should be able to net the Vikings a decent draft pick if the right deal presents itself. Trent Williams, a slightly more valuable LT than Reiff, was traded last offseason for a 5th-rounder in 2020 and a 3rd-rounder in 2021.

Garrett Bradbury ($2,927,925)

As an NFL sophomore, Bradbury showed improvement as a center and also in the locker room as a leader. However, he still needs to establish an anchor; there’s a ton of room for improvement with his pass blocking. 

While things seem to be trending upward for the 25 year-old, he must continue to improve to avoid the “bust” label. He was among the bottom tier of centers in terms of performance (25th / 37 C, per PFF) and was the 22nd-most valuable center in the NFL per OTC’s valuation chart.

Following the second year of his rookie contract (4-years, $12.882M), Bradbury will carry cap hits of $3.513M and $4.099M the next two seasons. The Vikings won’t need to make a decision on his fifth-year option until after the 2022 NFL Draft.

Brian O’Neill ($1,201,811)

The starter at right tackle for the better-part of three seasons, O’Neill is the best offensive lineman on the Vikings’ roster. He’s a great scheme fit and has improved every year as a pro. Still operating under his rookie contract for one more season, the 25 year-old will soon need to get paid. 

He’ll likely be seeking a contract in the range of $16-20 million per season, and perhaps more. His new contract may set the market for right tackles.

Speaking of, moving O’Neill to left tackle is certainly not out of the question if the team moves on from Reiff. O’Neill stepped into the role for a short time when Reiff was deciding his future before the season. Such a move would have a direct effect on O’Neill’s contract negotiations.

From a salary cap standpoint, the team should already be preparing for an O’Neill extension. Keeping Reiff off the books beyond 2021 is a good first step. The Vikings, for one last year, have O’Neill under a team-friendly cap hit of $1.761M in 2021.

Ezra Cleveland* ($1,006,766)

Cleveland was a 3-year starter at left tackle for Boise State. Selected in the second round of the 2020 draft, it was assumed at the time Cleveland was going to be groomed as the team’s left tackle of the future. Yet for nine games this season, he was the starting right guard.

Perhaps the move back out to tackle is still in the team’s plans. Whether that’s on the left or right side is yet to be determined.

He played decently at guard, ranking 29th out of 83 guards in terms of PFF grade. Like O’Neill, there’s some terrific value to be had on his deal if the Vikings can continue to get solid play out of Cleveland. In that same light, the sooner he can play tackle the better.

The rookie lineman just completed the first of a four-year, $5.537M contract. He’ll carry cap hits of $1.258M, $1.51M, and $1.761M the next three seasons.

Rashod Hill ($887,500)

Hill made $2.025M as a restricted free agent in 2019. In 2020, he was re-signed to a one-year, $1.0475M deal. In a somewhat odd move, the Vikings guaranteed Hill $887,500, an unusually high percentage of his salary.

Due to the structure of the contract, cutting Hill would have resulted in virtually zero cap savings. The team made a couple of these deals in free agency last offseason (Tajae Sharpe being another) that should be avoided moving forward. Keeping guarantees low adds cap flexibility, even if the deals aren’t too expensive.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Hill, who will be 29 in January, re-sign with the Vikings this offseason to shore up depth at tackle. He won’t cost must. But with a younger and cheaper option on the roster, it could be time for a player like Oli Udoh to step up and take over the swing tackle role.

Dru Samia ($859,985)

Samia was selected by the Vikings in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Still just 23 years old, it’s very early in his career, but Samia was absolutely dominated in his first few starts at right guard.

After completing the second year of a four-year, $3,724,940 rookie deal, he’ll carry cap hits of $1.034M and $1.149M the next two seasons. The Vikings would save about $665K and take on $370K in dead money if they released Samia this offseason.

Dakota Dozier ($840,000)

It’s funny how things can change in a season. Early on in the season, Dozier was one of a few Vikings whose values (figuratively) went up. He turned a strong training camp into a starting job at left guard. His production exceeded expectations.

As the season progressed, however, Dozier stuck out… in a negative way. He was consistently turned around and missed basic blocks. It’s surprising that the team continued to start him all year. As a result, the team’s pass-blocking suffered.

Dozier was re-signed last offseason to a one-year, $1 million deal including a $90K signing bonus. He can still add value as an experienced swing guard and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings want to retain him as a cheap backup for 2021. Anything more than a veteran’s minimum contract would be a mistake.

Oli Udoh ($716,900)

Udoh might become the swing tackle next season. The 23 year-old showed promise in limited playing time last season and he’s already approaching year three of a four-year, $3.152M rookie year. The team should play him sooner rather than later to determine what they have in the 2019 sixth-round selection. Udoh carries cap hits of $891K and $1.006M the next two seasons.

Brett Jones ($308,824)

Jones is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Despite the solid PFF grades in limited playing time, Jones has limited ability in terms of getting to the second level. Because of that reason, players like Dozier, Samia and Cleveland played over Jones in the Vikings’ run-heavy offense. That’s also the main reason he’s unlikely to return in 2021.

Kyle Hinton ($35,882)

A seventh-round pick by the Vikings in the 2020 draft, the Washburn (Division II) product should get a chance to compete for a substantial role on the offensive line in his second season. Hinton has a $780,000 cap hit in 2021. The 22 year-old will become an exclusive rights free agent after the season.