Vikings Want a QB on a Rookie Contract — Here’s Why

A Minnesota Vikings fan greets other fans in front of the NFL Draft stage during the NFL Draft second and third rounds on Friday, April 26, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. © Mark Zaleski/ For The Tennessean.

The countdown to the draft is on and more front of mind for the Vikings brass and their fan base. It’s less than three weeks away, and then — finally, after months of speculation — we’ll know what the Vikings wind up doing in the first round.

Vikings Want a QB on a Rookie Contract — Here’s Why

If GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Coach Kevin O’Connell are convinced the franchise’s best course is to trade up and draft a rookie quarterback in the top four, then that’s the direction they should take.

If they believe they can get a quality rookie QB at No. 11 or No. 23 who is close enough in ability to the three QBs, they could possibly move up to grab (Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, or J.J. McCarthy after the Bears pick Caleb Williams No. 1 overall), then they should keep both first-round picks and add a rookie QB and a top defensive player (with corner, defensive tackle or edge rusher all possibilities and valued additions).

Vikings Trade
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports.

I have no doubt that the Vikings will bring aboard a new first-round quarterback on April 25 (by trading up or using No. 11 or 23). The quarterback will soon be signed on a rookie contract, and I believe that rookie contract is the key to their thinking.

Here’s why in terms of caponomics. If the Vikings had matched the Atlanta offer and kept Kirk Cousins (if he wanted to stay, which I think was the case), he likely would’ve cost the Vikings the $180 million over four years that the Falcons paid and carried a 2024 salary cap number in the $20-30 million range (including some carryover of past restructured deals).

If the Vikings trade up to No. 4 (Arizona’s spot) and, in that case, likely select Maye or McCarthy, I would figure an estimated 10% increase over Anthony Richardson’s Colts contract at No. 4 last year. The new rookie quarterback in Minnesota would then have a 2024 cap number estimated at $6.8 million, a 2025 cap number of $8.5 million, and a four-year deal for $37.4 million.

That’s $9.35 million per year compared to $45 million per year for Cousins, thus a potential savings of about $142.6 million over the next four years. Of course, if the young quarterback performs like Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, or Justin Herbert (players who got lucrative new contracts when they were eligible for extensions after their third seasons), the financial impact would change, but not until 2027.

rookie contract
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The numbers are even better for the Vikings if they wait until No. 11 or 23 to grab their future starting QB. At 11 (based on a 10% increase over OT Peter Skoronski’s contract last year), the cap numbers are: 2024-$3.93 million; 2025-$4.92 million; 4-year total–$21.64 million (about $16 million less than at No. 4). At 23 (based on a 10% increase over Jordan Addison’s Vikings deal last year), it drops to: 2024-$2.75 million; 2025-$3.43 million; 4-year total-$15.11 million (over $23 million less than at No. 4).

After the Vikings likely draft a rookie quarterback, I think they’ll say goodbye to Nick Mullens and pick up $1.855 million in 2024 cap room. Sam Darnold’s cap hit is $5 million this season as a potential bridge quarterback. Last year’s fifth-rounder, Jaren Hall, should be the inexpensive third quarterback with a 2024 cap number of $985,000.

The overriding goal is to have a quarterback on a rookie deal who is a big-time player. This will ensure low cost and cost certainty for several seasons at the most important position, and then the money and cap room will be available to build a great supporting cast on offense and defense around the young quarterback.

vikings news roster
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports.

That was the ultra-successful formula for the Seahawks to build a Super Bowl champion team around Russell Wilson, a third-round pick in 2012. The Chiefs did the same thing with Patrick Mahomes, their first-round pick (No. 10 overall) in 2017. The Bengals built an AFC champion team around Joe Burrow after picking him No. 1 overall in 2020.

If the Houston Texans hadn’t moved on from Deshaun Watson’s high price by trading him to Cleveland and drafting last year’s Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud No. 2 overall, it would’ve been exceedingly difficult for them to add a $25 million per year free agent in Danielle Hunter or trade for $18.5 million receiver Stefon Diggs while keeping the rest of Stroud’s supporting cast intact (including some high-priced offensive linemen led by Laremy Tunsil and a well-paid veteran back they traded for in Joe Mixon).

Eleven of the last 12 Super Bowls have featured a quarterback on his rookie contract for one of the teams (including Brock Purdy of the 49ers last season).

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports.

Obviously, the key to successful team building with a quarterback on a rookie deal is to pick the right one. That’s the challenge for the Vikings’ football leaders in the coming weeks and on April 25.

Vikings Offseason Program Opens Next Week:

It always seems like the dead period after the previous season is over in a flash, and here comes the offseason program with OTAs and minicamp from mid-April through mid-June.

The Vikings’ offseason program begins next week with the conditioning and classroom portion, which leads to 10 OTA (Organized Team Activity) sessions/practices from May 20 to June 13 and the team’s mandatory minicamp on June 4-6.

It will be fascinating to see who throws the football for the Purple this spring and early summer as this post-Kirk Cousins era of Vikings football begins in earnest.

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