Vikings cap hits: Secondary

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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.

Anthony Harris ($11,441,000) #4

Harris became the third player in team history to be designated with the franchise tag. On the franchise tag, Harris made $11.441 million this season. His cap hit was 7th-highest among NFL safeties.

After a 2019 season in which Harris tied for the league lead in interceptions and allowed zero touchdowns in coverage, he followed it up with zero picks and four touchdowns allowed in 2020. His Pro Football Focus grade dropped 25 points and his cover grade dropped 30 points.

While the drop-off in production can be attributed to coaches asking him to do different things with a young secondary, because of that decline in production, he was one of the least valuable players on the team this year in terms of playing up to his contract. That doesn’t mean he’s not a good player, but when his performance value is $5 million below his salary, it absolutely should be taken into account when deciding his future.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, it wouldn’t make much sense for the Vikings to re-sign Harris to a lucrative long-term deal unless he agrees to a contract with a considerably lower AAV (average annual value). After all, his end-of-year valuation was $5,881,000.

To give you an idea of Harris’ value on the open market, Spotrac estimates his value at $15.5 million per season and Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus listed Harris as his sixth-best free agent overall.

Spielberger wrote the following in his Top-50 free agency rankings: “Prediction: Football Team signs Harris for four years, $56 million ($14M APY): $27.5 million total guaranteed, $16 million fully guaranteed at signing.”

While I have little doubt the team would prefer to retain Harris, doing so at these numbers may be extremely difficult. He could be one the top available options in free agency.

Harrison Smith ($10,750,000) #5

Smith just completed year four of a five-year extension he signed in 2016. Unlike Harris, he had a standout season and played up to his contract. Smith led the team with five interceptions.

The AAV of his contract is $10.25M, 10th-highest among NFL safeties. Yet according to OTC’s valuation chart, the 31 year-old Smith was the fifth-most valuable safety in the league in 2020 (Harris was 24th).

With one year remaining on his deal, it’ll soon be decision time for the Vikings. A third contract for Smith could potentially lower his $10.25M cap hit for 2021. That would depend on the structure of a new extension, but it would more importantly lock up Smith for the rest of his career.

As Smith’s performance is still among the league leaders at his position, I’d imagine it’s in the best interest of both parties to discuss an extension this offseason.

If not, then this would be the year to dish Smith while he still has value. The Vikings, without penalty, could recoup $10.25 million by trading or releasing the vet. That being said, it’s difficult to envision Smith going anywhere.

Jeff Gladney* ($1,998,369)

Gladney showed promise during his rookie season. Naturally there were growing pains but he had a lot on his plate learning both cornerback positions.

In terms of production, there weren’t too many positives. Gladney allowed seven touchdowns in coverage, broke up three passes and did not record an interception, although he should have had a pick-6 in Tampa Bay.

Still, he started 15 games as a rookie, recorded seven tackles for loss and had 75 tackles. He gained valuable experience and also proved his toughness.

Gladney had the team’s highest value among cornerbacks, producing at a level $1,349,243 above his average salary ($2.7M). That calculation is enhanced by his production on special teams.

Overall, the Vikings received solid value from Gladney in year number one. I think it’s safe to say the Vikings can unlock a lot more value out of Gladney, as well as the other defensive backs, once they’re able to consistently pressure the quarterback.

The 31st overall pick in the 2020 draft will earn $11M over his 4-year rookie contract. The team option for his fifth-year will be decided upon in 2023.

Cameron Dantzler* ($833,750)

Dantzler, 22, began to display the undeniable talent that made him a third-round pick in April’s draft. The Mississippi State product flashed in training camp and then again late in the season. He had two interceptions in his last four games. Before the Christmas debacle, he was PFF’s highest-graded cornerback over the previous three weeks.

On a four-year, $4.485M contract, the sky is the limit for this Vikings’ rookie. If things go as planned in terms of his development, he has the potential to be one of the most valuable players in the league for the next few seasons.

Harrison Hand* ($684,696)

Hand was selected in the 5th-round of April’s draft. The Baylor and Temple product signed a four-year, $3.6M deal as a rookie. He mainly played special teams this season but filled in a few times at cornerback. His performance should earn him a larger role moving forward.

Hand was the team’s lone bright spot on defense during the meltdown in New Orleans. Plays like this helped him earn a 65.8 PFF grade in 163 defensive snaps. It’s a small sample size, but if the 22 year-old pans out, he’ll be a key reason why the 2020 draft could go down as one of Rick Spielman’s best.

He was the team’s second-most valuable cornerback in 2020, according to OTC’s valuation chart ($1,873,000 overall value).

Josh Metellus* ($574,118)

Metellus led the team in special teams tackles. Because of the value he provided as a special teamer, the rookie performed at a level well above his $823,750 average salary. That’s the sort of thing that could lead to a larger role moving forward.

The 6th-round pick only played 16 snaps on defense. But due to his special teams production and having a year under his belt, Metellus should see more defensive snaps next season. I’d be surprised if he’s a starter, but he should continue to provide the team with value as a special teams leader and as a depth piece in 2021.

Chris Jones ($441,176)

The unexpected release of Holton Hill on December 8th gave Jones, who was acquired via waivers in October from Detroit, a chance to start. Jones was on Arizona’s practice squad to start the season. He originally signed with the Lions as an undrafted free agent in 2018 after playing college football at Nebraska.

Jones, 25, played pretty well right out of the gate, but he struggled noticeably down the stretch.

Earlier last week, voice of the Vikings Paul Allen, who has historically been an accurate barometer of team-related minutia, said on his KFAN radio show, “I can’t even see him being on the team next year.” So take that as you may.

Jones will be an exclusive rights free agent after the season, meaning the the Vikings can re-sign him to a league-minimum deal (based on his credited seasons) before he’s allowed to negotiate with any other teams. If Minnesota does not offer him a contract, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.

Dylan Mabin ($394,706)

Mabin, 23, was originally signed by the Las Vegas Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He played college football at Fordham.

After spending the first eight weeks of the 2020 season on the Raiders’ practice squad (he was elevated for Week 7), the Vikings signed him to the active roster.

He was active for four games and played 16 snaps on defense. He’s under contract for one more season (with a $780K cap hit) before becoming an exclusive rights free agent after the 2021 season. He’ll need to compete for a roster spot next year if he’s not cut during the offseason.

Defensive backs who ended the season on injured reserve:

The Vikings spent $7,944,494 on cornerbacks in 2020. That was 5th-least in the NFL. But when it comes to safeties, only Denver spent more. Minnesota had over $23.5M committed to the safety position.

Reallocating cap space to cornerback by acquiring a veteran in free agency who can step in and start right away might make some sense, especially if the Vikings can’t reach a deal with Harris before free agency.