September 19, 2017

The Vikings Cap Conundrum Part 2: How Will It Play Out?

Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman during the second day of Minicamp at Winter Park. CARLOS GONZALEZ

Disclaimer this was written before Alex Boone was cut. 

As it stands right now, Minnesota is about $11 million under the 2017 salary cap. Assuming that number rolls over into 2018 and we get a $10 million increase to the salary cap as overthecap.com predicts, Minnesota will go into 2018 with about $50 million in cap space to re-sign the players listed below. Now, I am no NFL contract negotiation expert so I will be dealing in rough figures in this article. There may be places the Vikings can trim cap spending that I don’t anticipate, but big picture we should be able to get a look at the challenges facing the team in the future.

Sam Bradford himself is certainly going to, conservatively,  fetch a figure near $20 million per year barring a huge setback in 2017 (whether it’s with Minnesota or somewhere else, I’ll get into later). Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, and Stefon Diggs are no brainer extensions and will certainly be getting long term deals. Anthony Barr’s 2018 contract is already accounted for at $12 million in 2018 and I would imagine his cap hit will if anything be decreased with his extension in the immediate future. The other 3 are under contract for 2018, so for any extension only the signing bonus should have a major affect the 2018 cap unless the Vikings tear up their current deals.

As we look at the situation, the first thing we need to do is account for rookies. Without a 4th rounder due to the Bradford trade in 2016 and with a winning record in 2017 (let’s not be pessimistic) Minnesota will probably be around $6 million in total rookie salary. Since they will be displacing other players on the bottom of the roster the effective cost for them is our estimated $6 million minus the number of picks (6) times the NFL minimum salary ($465k in 2017) which gives us about $3 million rounded. So we begin with $47 million, remove Bradford’s cap hit and get $27 million to work with for extensions.

I am going to use Richard Sherman’s contract extension in 2014 as a base to predict how Hunter’s deal will look. Like Hunter in this scenario he was a proven elite player at his position before the 4th year in his rookie deal and was not a 1st round pick, so he did not have a 5th year option. Sherman is still currently in the top 5 in average money per year for CBs even in 2017, and I will assume Hunter will make the same compared to the NFL’s edge rushers. Sherman got his last year in his rookie deal fully guaranteed and an $11 million signing bonus, which boosted his cap hit in his 4th year from around $600k to $3.6 million. I’m not sure how the Vikings will format Hunter’s guaranteed money, but I do think as far as cap hit you will see, like Sherman, a small cap increase his 4th year with his 5th year making him one of the highest paid at his position in the NFL against the cap. With the premium for edge rushers a little bit higher than CBs, and after looking at Justin Houston get $20 million as a signing bonus negotiating on the franchise tag, I think we see a signing bonus around $15-20 million or so for a 5 year extension, with the bonus mostly prorated over the first 5 years of the now 6 year deal. That would make Hunter’s 2018 cap hit about $4-5 million in 2018 and around $21 million in 2019. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.

But before we get to 2019, we need to continue on with our extensions in 2018.

Stefon Diggs is in a similar scenario as Hunter with no 5th year option to worry about and some proven production. He won’t demand nearly as much money, but should still make a good chunk of change. Where Hunter is a physical specimen, prototypical edge rusher with unlimited potential, Diggs is a new age wide receiver who makes up for his lack of stature with impeccable route running and explosiveness in his breaks both before and after he gets the ball. At this moment before the 2017 season, he won’t command WR1 money and if that’s what he’s looking for, he may not stick in Minnesota even if the Vikings want to keep him. Even though Diggs is 10 times the player Tavon Austin is, I think his contract could end up looking similar. Austin will never be Calvin Johnson or Odell Beckham JR, but the Rams saw him (for some reason) as a very valuable playmaker and paid him accordingly. This turned out to be a horrible mistake, but all we are really interested in is how a non-prototypical WR gets paid when his team values him. Like Tavon, his value is mostly capped at $9-$10 million or so until he starts putting up Antonio Brown numbers, which would lead to around a $10 million signing bonus over 5 years, and $8 million or so per year in salary. This would make his 2018 cap hit about $3 million and his 2019 cap hit about $10 million.

Eric Kendricks is the same story as Diggs and Hunter as far as timing and lack of a 5th year option. The best inside linebackers in the NFL earn around $10 million per year, and I expect Kendricks to make every penny of that. In fact, I would think his contract looks very similar to Diggs’ deal. Again, in 2018 the Vikings will get a bargain but will be paying full price come 2019. His cap hits each year should be $3 million and $10 million, respectively.

Jerrick McKinnon is in the same spot as these other 3, but with Dalvin Cook emerging as a possible bell cow running back and Latavius Murray having 20% of his contract guaranteed in 2018, McKinnon is either re-signing on an inconsequential deal or playing elsewhere in 2018. With little room to sign free agents and wanting to carry over as much cap space as possible, Minnesota may also be looking at a late compensatory pick if he signs elsewhere, which further adds to the mountain of evidence against his return.

Shariff Floyd is another big name for Vikings fans, but considering he has still not been confirmed to be able to get onto the field and that nerve damage is so fickle and tricky to find a timetable on, I am going to assume that Floyd leaves as a free agent after 2017.

So where does that leave us heading into 2019? After allotting space for rookies, the 3 extensions and the re-signing of Sam Bradford, we still have $16 million in cap space to fill out the roster and sign free agents. I am guessing we see most of that saved as Minnesota still has pieces to sign for 2019 in Anthony Barr and Trae Waynes. Even assuming an increase to $190 million in cap space, per Overthecap.com, in 2019 Minnesota would have less than $1 million in space if you didn’t carry any cap space over from 2018 even before Waynes, Barr, and rookies are accounted for. The good news, however, is that Minnesota has planned for this and has loads of easy-to-cut contracts, which I will expand upon later. In order to pay Waynes,

When looking at Barr’s contract, there is more precedent to learn from as most elite pass rushers are signed to extensions before or during the year of their 5th year option. His 5th year is 2018 and he’s set to make $12 million. It gets a little tricky whether Barr falls under the 4-3 OLB designation or the Edge Rusher designation, considering the way he is used in Mike Zimmer’s blitz happy defense and where he often lines up. It’s possible this contract gets a little messy as the difference between the top 4-3 OLB and the top Edge Rusher is over $6 million per year, and I’m sure Minnesota will try to pay him as an OLB while Barr tries to get the lucrative Edge Rusher money he could conceivably deserve. How much Barr makes is also going to depend on whether he bounces back to his 2015 form in 2017, or if he repeats his disappointing performance from 2016. As of now, I am going to project his cap hit to stay at $12 million in 2018 and possibly see it be the same in 2019. This is by far the hardest contract for me to project so far, so there could be error either way here.

Waynes in 2019 will be set to make around $10-11 million on his 5th year option and I think at this point we can safely say he won’t be playing for Minnesota at that amount. A cap hit only $2 or $3 million less than Xavier Rhodes would require a serious leap in performance from Waynes. With Mike Zimmer’s ability to develop cornerbacks and with an already talented (albeit still raw) CB in Mackenzie Alexander who will cost Minnesota only $1 million, the improvement will need to be dramatic. All that being said, if we do see an improvement and Waynes is deemed a core player who must be re-signed, Minnesota has set itself up to be flexible and able to cut salaries to open cap space.

We can conclude that if we carry over $16 million, that would leave about $2 million of cap space after paying rookies and all the players we have extended and re-signed earlier. (Assuming Waynes, Floyd, and McKinnon become FAs)

Going into 2019, Minnesota has the following veterans signed to deals, and I’ve listed the cap savings vs the amount of dead money on their contracts to illustrate how much money the team could save by cutting them. In this chart, anything close to 1.0 on the savings to dead cap ratio is going to prevent the team from cutting that player. (I used 10 as a maximum for the ratio, infinity tends to skew the graph)

For example, even if Xavier Rhodes has a down year in 2018, it wouldn’t save much money to cut him compared to the amount of guaranteed money you’d have to still pay. Guys like Boone, Rudolph, and Sendejo who have zero guaranteed money would be easy cuts if their play falls off or if the Vikings desperately need cap space for a more important position. This is also a good time for teams to re-negotiate deals as they have a ton of leverage over players who know they could be cut and making nothing at any time, or could be playing in the most violent sport in America with no injury guarantees.

Player Cap Number (millions) Dead Money (millions) Ratio
Rhodes $13.4 $7.2 1.86
Griffen $11.9 $1.2 9.92
Reiff $11.7 $6.6 1.77
Smith $10.7 $4 2.68
Joseph $10.7 $3 3.57
Rudolph $7.6 $0 10.00
Boone $6.7 $0 10.00
Remmers $6.3 $1.8 3.50
Murray $5.6 $0.6 9.33
Sendejo $5.5 $0 10.00
Thielen $5 $2 2.50
Wright $4.3 $0.5 8.60

So, at minimum, Minnesota will be able to choose to free up whichever amount of roughly $40 million they would like out of the Griffen, Rudolph, Boone, Sendejo, Wright, and Murray contracts at a maximum cost of $2.36 in dead money. Some of these players, like Sendejo, Murray, or Wright might not even make it to 2018 on the roster and may be replaced by rookies, but we can just assume that they did in this scenario in order to figure out if Minnesota can handle a worst-case scenario. If they were cut the year prior, the Vikings would have even more money assuming they rolled it into the 2019 cap, creating even more flexibility.

None of this is factoring in Teddy Bridgewater, who Vikings fans know was en route to being the Vikings franchise quarterback for the next 10+ years until his horrific knee dislocation in the 2016 preseason. If we were to imagine a 2nd scenario where Bradford either takes a step back, or Minnesota is confident in Bridgewater and chooses him as the franchise QB, Minnesota could see a significant savings over Bradford. If his contract is tolled, Minnesota would instantly save $18 million or so in 2018, and would likely save money in an extension negotiation vs Bradford’s hypothetical deal as Bradford is set to be a free agent or tagged for around $24 million, where Bridgewater would still be under contract for a measly $1.3 million. I don’t think there’s any question that a fully healthy Bridgewater signing an extension after being tolled is the best possible option for Minnesota overall, but it’s also not the most likely outcome and wouldn’t come without the Player’s Union fighting the tolled deal and some awkward conversations in Vikings HQ as they decide to jettison Sam and underpay Teddy. Still, Teddy’s injury immediately cost the Vikings $25 million in cap space that was paid to Bradford and truly set the franchise back in terms of cap space flexibility, and this pipe dream could set them back on that track. It is amazing that Minnesota is still in position to sign its young core even with the addition of Bradford’s contract, a reality that just goes to show the true value of Rick Spielman and especially his cap guru Rob Brzezinksi.

In the end, the Vikings may not have the immediate room to re-sign every young player on their team and also fill out the roster with the smaller deals that make up most of an NFL team, but they can at least get very close. The ace up their sleeve is their ability to wait and see how these players develop, and have the cap flexibility to choose between keeping vets and extending players on rookie deals due to the way they have structured player contracts. We may not be certain right now if Kyle Rudolph or Trae Waynes is more important to the team in 2019, but by the time the decision must be made there will be more clarity and freedom to move whichever way the front office chooses. Given the amount of surprise money the Vikings have had to spend on Bradford and the number of elite young players they must extend, it’s fair to say maintaining that flexibility is something only the best front offices in the NFL could do.

Stephen Moldovan 8 Articles
Staff Writer

Sac City, Iowa, is home to the world’s largest popcorn ball, the world's best named liquor store and is the birthplace of Moldy (like the bread, he grows on you). Moldy is an Iowa State graduate, lifelong Cyclones and Vikings fan, Cavs fan since he was eleven and Twins fan for three to five innings per year. His other hobbies and interests include tailgating the student lot tailgate line at Jack Trice, The Office, golfing poorly, and making shallow statistical sports observations by just googling a bunch. He enjoys learning things that might be against general perception or may be counter intuitive and as of (current date) he has yet to lose an argument on Twitter.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: