When it comes to how the Vikings shop for their players, it’s a study in contrasts it seems. Or maybe it just worked out that way. Whatever the reason, it’s interesting to look at the draft backgrounds of the Vikings on both sides of the ball, and see how the team has been put together.
The starting offensive lineup the Vikings fielded against the Bengals- and many games this year- is an interesting collection of mostly 3rd day draft picks- and undrafted free agents. Here is the starting line-up:
QB: Case Keenum. Undrafted.
RB: Latavius Murray. 6th round.
FB: CJ Ham. Undrafted.
WR: Stefon Diggs. 5th round.
WR: Adam Thielen. Undrafted.
TE: Kyle Rudolph. 2nd round.
LT: Rashod Hill. Undrafted.
LG: Nick Easton. Undrafted.
C: Pat Elflein. 3rd round.
RG: Joe Berger. 6th round.
RT: Mike Remmers. Undrafted.
Over half the guys in the starting line-up went undrafted. Three more were Day 3 picks. Only two were second day picks. And not one was a first-round draft pick.
Talk about a bargain basement starting line-up.
Okay, it’s not like there isn’t some first round draft picks on the roster- Laquon Treadwell, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Michael Floyd, and Riley Reiff, but all of those players except maybe Reiff have not been impact players this year. You could also say that while Remmers and Murray were not high draft picks, they didn’t come cheap either. Dalvin Cook was a 2nd round pick (and first-round talent) as well.
But still, among the starters, that’s a lot of guys without a lot of love on draft day.
And this collection of bargain basement cast-offs has managed to rank among the top 10 offenses in the league in most key offensive metrics. Adam Thielen made the Pro-Bowl. Case Keenum is having the best year of his career by far, and a top 5 QB overall this season. Mike Remmers, while he’s missed a number of starts, is quietly having the best year of his career- as is 3rd round pick Jerick McKinnon if you ask me. Joe Berger has been getting it done for a few years now, and this year is no different. Rashod Hill has filled-in reasonably well at both tackle spots when called upon. And the rest of the guys have generally been solid, or better in the case of Stefon Diggs or Kyle Rudolph.
Looks like the Vikings bargain-hunting on the offensive side is beginning to pay off.
But if you think Rick Spielman spends most of pre-draft process clipping coupons, the defensive side of the ball proves you wrong. While there are a few guys drafted in later rounds, most did not come cheap in terms of draft capital. Let’s have a look:
Everson Griffen, DE, 4th round.
Tom Johnson, DT, Undrafted.
Linval Joseph, NT, 2nd round.
Danielle Hunter, DE, 3rd round
Anthony Barr, LB, 1st round
Eric Kendricks, LB, 2nd round
Xavier Rhodes, CB, 1st round
Trae Waynes, CB, 1st round
Terence Newman, CB, 1st round
Harrison Smith, S, 1st round
Andrew Sendejo, S, Undrafted.
By contrast with the offense, where just over half the starters went undrafted, on defense nearly half of the starters were first round picks. All but four were drafted in the first 46 picks.
The entire starting secondary, Sendejo excepted, were first round picks.
Okay, Newman wasn’t the Vikings’ first-round pick, and Joseph, Sendejo and Tom Johnson were free-agent acquisitions as well, but still 7 of those 11 starters were originally drafted by the Vikings- 4 in the first round, 1 in the 2nd, 1 in the third, and 1 in the fourth round - all in the first 100 picks.
Of the starters the Vikings drafted on offense, or picked up as undrafted free agents, only Pat Elflein and Kyle Rudolph were in the top 100 picks.
If you look at these starting line-ups, this year’s salary cap for those starters on offense amounts to only $32 million. By contrast, the starters on defense amount to $51.9 million - almost $20 million more.
Overall, the Vikings spend about $11 million more on the defensive side of the ball when you include everybody on the roster. Relatively speaking, the Vikings spend the 8th most in the league on their defensive players, but rank only 23rd on the offensive side of the ball.
In terms of spending by position, according to Sortrac the Vikings rank the highest in spending at the defensive tackle position (6th), and lowest at the guard position (30th). No wonder those training camp line drills are so one-sided.
The Vikings also rank pretty high in spending at QB (7th), despite Keenum being only a $2 million cap hit, thanks mainly to Sam Bradford’s $18 million salary cap. Cornerback is also a big ticket item on the Vikings roster, ranking 8th overall in the league.
But despite having arguably one of the best receiver groups in the league, the Vikings spending on that position ranks only 23rd overall. The Vikings used to be big spenders at running back thanks to Adrian Peterson, but now have a better group there and rank only 19th in the league in spending at that position.
The only two other big ticket positions on the Vikings roster are offensive tackle (Reiff and Remmers weren’t exactly bargains), and safety (Harrison Smith), where they both rank 11th overall in salary cap at those positions.
STILL A WHOLE LOT FOR NOT SO MUCH
Sadly, even though the Vikings don’t seem quite so injury-ridden as last year, losing your starting QB to IR means a lot of the Vikings salary cap is riding the bench. Between players on IR and deadcap hits this year, the Vikings have $31.5 million in salary cap not contributing - about as much as their starting lineup on offense last week and roughly 25% of overall spending.
FUTURE LIKELY TO BE THE SAME
I expect that even if the Vikings offer Case Keenum at starting QB contract next year, replacing Sam Bradford’s, spending on the offensive side will remain lower than the defensive side for the foreseeable future, assuming guys like Anthony Barr, Trae Waynes, and Danielle Hunter hit their option years and are extended.
Offensively, there are not many big ticket contract extensions on the immediate horizon, apart from QB, and later Stefon Diggs. Who knows what free-agency may bring, but I expect the Vikings will be mindful of their salary cap commitments as several core players come off their rookie contracts in the coming years.
A RESILIENT ROSTER - A SIGN OF A STRONG ORGANIZATION
But overall, the Vikings are in good position to keep the players they want to keep, executing their primary draft-and-develop strategy, despite costly injury setbacks at quarterback, defensive tackle, and offensive tackle if you consider Matt Kalil’s demise as largely due to injury.
Those injury setbacks cost the Vikings four first-round draft picks, although you could argue that Bridgewater, while lost for two years, may still come back, and if Kalil had worked out he’d cost more than Reiff does now.
But while the Vikings have suffered these setbacks with first round picks, they’ve managed to make up for them in large part by having great success elsewhere. So, while Bridgewater and Bradford went down, they found a bargain in Case Keenum. Laquon Treadwell hasn’t yet emerged, and Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t work out, but Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have. Kalil didn’t pan out, but maybe Reiff will. Dalvin Cook went down, but McKinnon and Murray have picked up the slack. Trae Waynes has had a long learning curve, but Terence Newman has filled in nicely. Shariff Floyd went down, but Danielle Hunter has emerged. And so those later round picks and unheralded acquisitions have made up for some of the misfortunes the Vikings have had with their top picks.
Some of that ability of the Vikings to recover from these setbacks goes to Rick Spielman and the Vikings scouting group for finding diamonds in the rough to replace the polished diamonds when they crack, but also the Vikings coaching staff. Guys from Case Keenum, to Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, to Xavier Rhodes and others have credited the Vikings coaching staff for their development and helping them to get where they are today.
It doesn’t just happen by magic. There is a reason why some teams (like Cleveland) never seem to have any luck with their draft picks, while other teams like the Vikings and most of the current playoff teams have largely done well with theirs. Coaching. It’s not just the head coach either, or the coordinators. It’s the position coaches. Guys like Andre Patterson, Jerry Gray, Kevin Stefanski, and Kennedy Polamalu, among others. They help build the skill levels in the players they coach, while the coordinators adapt schemes to suit their skill sets, and the head coach directs and oversees it all.
Which Viking has done the most to earn their salary cap this year?
This poll is closed
Harrison Smith ($7.5m)
Case Keenum ($1.9m)
Adam Thielen ($3.75m)
Xavier Rhodes ($10.4m)
Anthony Barr ($4m)
Everson Griffen ($8.6m)
Stefon Diggs ($672k)
Linval Joseph ($7m)