The Vikings Should Explore 2 Particular Free Agents
Now that Za’Darius Smith has finally been traded (to Cleveland) to free up salary cap space and the Vikings have an estimated $12.7 million of cap room, they should fortify their 31st-ranked defense from last season by adding a couple of potential impact free agents still on the market. I’m thinking specifically of two members of last year’s top 10 Ravens defense — edge rusher Justin Houston and cornerback Marcus Peters.
The Vikings Should Explore 2 Particular Free Agents
They’re both still available and reportedly attracting plenty of interest in this post-draft phase of free agency. As a playoff team last season in need of defensive help, the Vikings could be attractive to Houston and Peters, and perhaps they could be signed at a bargain rate on a one-year deal.
Yes, the Vikings need a good chunk of their new-found salary cap room to sign the five-man draft class led by first-round pick Jordan Addison (whose first-year cap number will be approximately $2.7 million). And when Justin Jefferson’s extension is done, his cap number this year should rise by about $3 million above his current $4.175 million cap hit for 2023 (as a large signing bonus would be spread over many years to lower the initial cap hit). The Vikings also need additional funds for a Danielle Hunter extension.
And bear in mind that only the top 51 players currently count against the cap, and all players — including the 53 on the active roster and those on injured reserve — will count after the final cut in early September.
The Vikings likely will have to either trade or release Dalvin Cook to gain enough cap room to do what they need to do on many fronts, and this help on defense is needed more than Cook with a solid group of backs in-house after Alexander Mattison re-signed (and there’s Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler and an interesting seventh-round rookie in DeWayne McBride plus it would be nice for the team to gain a 2024 mid-round draft pick for Cook if possible).
There should be cap room to sign Houston now, considering he made $3.5 million last season (plus an additional $1 million in sack incentives) when he played 44% of Baltimore’s defensive snaps in his role as a rotational player and designated pass rusher. Houston contributed 9.5 sacks, 17 QB hits, 7 tackles for loss, and 21 tackles in his 12th NFL season. He’s 34 years old but obviously stays in excellent shape as a player who never seems to age.
The Vikings’ pass rush would look much more formidable if Houston — a four-time Pro Bowler — joined Danielle Hunter, Marcus Davenport, D.J. Wonnum, and Patrick Jones as edge rushers/outside linebackers, especially considering the injury history of Hunter and Davenport.
Peters had a free agent visit with the Raiders this week and would likely be more pricey than Houston as he made $10 million last season in the final year of his three-year, $14 million per year deal with the Ravens.
Peters was a first-round pick of the Chiefs, is 30 years old, and a three-time Pro Bowler. He has 32 career interceptions but had only one last season (along with 47 tackles) as a starting corner in Baltimore after he missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL. With his lower level of production last year (also only six pass break-ups) and injury history, perhaps he can be signed for around the $7 million per year Patrick Peterson received from Pittsburgh this year in free agency.
The Vikings surely could use Peters in the corner group as it’s hard to count on Andrew Booth Jr. staying healthy and starting all season after he battled injuries in college and a knee injury ended his rookie year after six games. Akayleb Evans’ promising first season ended after 10 games due to multiple concussions, and free agent signee Byron Murphy Jr. missed eight games last season in Arizona with a back injury. The injury history of these three current Vikings would have me trying to add a quality vet to join the cornerback group that includes third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon and fourth-rounder Jay Ward, plus vet Joejuan Williams.
As Mike Zimmer famously said, “You can never have enough corners.” And Peters would be a nice and potentially very valuable addition to the team.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. If Kirk Cousins thinks he’s now underpaid at $35 million per year in this exploding quarterback market, think of how Patrick Mahomes feels. His $45 million per year deal is currently 16% below Lamar Jackson’s $52 million yearly salary that leads all NFL players. Jackson’s career production pales compared to Mahomes (a 1-3 career playoff record for the Ravens QB and 11 games missed due to injury over the past two years).
Jalen Hurts is the second highest-paid QB at $51 million per year. Hurts has one Pro Bowl season compared to five for Mahomes and was just beaten by the Chiefs QB in Super Bowl LVII.
Things are out of whack on the NFL QB salary scale and likely beginning to weigh on Mahomes. That’s the problem with signing a 10-year contract as Mahomes did with his record-breaking 10-year, $450 million extension in July 2020. I said Mahomes’ massive deal would be renegotiated and restructured several times over the following 12 years (including the last two years of his rookie contract).
Mahomes now ranks seventh among NFL quarterbacks, and he likely will soon have the ninth-highest average after Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are extended as expected before the 2023 season.
Mahomes is a two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time league MVP. He’s the top quarterback and best player in the NFL. Mahomes has stayed quiet as he’s seen these other QB deals unfold, and I’m sure he’s confident that his time is coming to have his contract adjusted to return him to the top spot. He and his agents are obviously waiting for the Burrow and Herbert deals to get done and then will talk seriously with Chiefs Owner Clark Hunt and GM Brett Veach.
The big question is if Mahomes will continue to give the Chiefs a Tom Brady-like home team discount to help the Chiefs add a solid supporting cast around him. Mahomes obviously wants to win and understands– as Brady did– that Super Bowl success translates to great endorsement opportunities, which Mahomes continues to capitalize on. Mahomes also wants to use his money to invest in multiple other businesses, especially sports teams (he’s part owner of the MLB Kansas City Royals, MLS Sporting Kansas City, and he and his wife Brittany are co-owners of the NWSL Kansas City Current).
At only 27 years old, Mahomes could play another 15 or so years. I don’t think he’ll chase the last dollar from the Chiefs, but it’s only fair for him to be the highest-paid QB which has to be his goal.
I see Mahomes and the Chiefs compromising somewhat by renegotiating and raising him to $55 million per year in the principal terms (base salaries and roster bonuses) that will make him the highest-paid QB (unless Burrow and/or Herbert are at that level, and then Mahomes should be at least a couple million per year above them). Incentives and escalators should be included in his deal to keep him at pace with the top of the market if he is still producing at a Pro Bowl level and Kansas City remains a playoff team. He has two lucrative incentives that he has cashed in on a couple of times — $1.25 million for winning the AFC Championship Game and $1.25 million for NFL MVP.
Fair escalators would involve increasing base salary in a year following outstanding production with team success and tying it to staying at top QB pay. Adding such escalators to his current incentives, along with the increase in principal terms, would give the Chiefs a very happy QB and team leader. His agents and the team can then say Mahomes could have demanded more money, but he wants the Chiefs to have the salary cap flexibility to always keep a strong supporting cast around him.
Hunt, Veach, and Chiefs Coach Andy Reid can be confident that Mahomes is the type of superstar who will always be highly motivated to win many more championships because, like Brady and the greatest players in any sport, it’s how he’s wired—as a tremendous competitor and great achiever who has a true love of the game and appreciation of his potential to be one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks and players when he someday enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That Former Gopher WR Is Available Again
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl
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