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DN GM - 2018 Free Agency

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

So, assuming now the Vikings do indeed sign Kirk Cousins for $28 million/year for 3 years, where does that leave them in terms of keeping their core players, and trying to bolster their roster as best they can through free agency this year, and the draft.

The Vikings have committed to Nick Easton now as well, which is just under $3 million against the salary cap, and have several other needs to fill.

So, in a vain-glorious armchair GM on the DN sort of way, I looked at some possibilities (trying to be realistic as well) that could help bolster the Vikings roster, and give them a better chance of success in the coming year, while also remaining under the salary cap.

Using Spotrac’s current Vikings salary cap situation, I made a few updates and transactions that seemed to add value, while also addressing some more urgent needs. Here’s what I did:

  • The Vikings had around $45M and change in salary cap to begin with, and I added QB Kirk Cousins at $28M this year;
  • I released DE Brian Robison and RB Latavius Murray, clearing $8.5M in salary cap space;
  • I added CB Terence Newman at $3M
  • I added C/G Joe Berger at $3M
  • I added DT Shamar Stephen at $2M
  • I added RB Jerick McKinnon at $5M (Dion Lewis signed for that, so why not Jet?)
  • I also “released” DT Shariff Floyd, clearing $6.757M in salary cap, although I think that can only happen if the Vikings completely win Floyd’s arbitration case, but not totally sure on this whole deal, which I thought should only have counted against last year’s salary cap, but maybe it effected the carry-forward amount, so who knows.
  • I added G/T Justin Pugh at $8.5M
  • I added Kai Forbath at $1M
  • I released C Cornelius Edison, saving $555K.

That left about $7.5M left in salary cap, roughly $6M of which needs to go to draft picks.

That basically uses up all the salary cap for the Vikings at this point, bolsters the OL with Justin Pugh, adds a high quality 2nd back in McKinnon, and fills in some other positions along the OL, DL and at CB with some quality, but inexpensive players. I think the salaries used are fairly realistic.

But what this doesn’t do is extend any of the four core players whose contract end this year: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, and Stefon Diggs. Barr is on the roster this year at $12M and change (his 1st round option year). My guess is that these four will command around $36M/year to extend. Trae Waynes will also have a $10M option year in 2019, which I expect the Vikings to pick up. So that’s basically $46M in additional salary cap the Vikings have to come up with starting next year. Here’s how I do it:

First, I’m counting on the salary cap increasing by $10M in 2019. That takes us down to needing $36M more in space. Second, I expect Barr to have a $4M lower salary in 2019, which brings us to $32M. Then I release/don’t extend Joe Berger, Terence Newman, Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff, saving roughly $16M in cap space, bringing the total gap down to $16M. These guys will be replaced by draft picks or previous backups already on the roster.

Then I work an extension for Trae Waynes, which saves $2M in cap space in 2019, bringing the gap down to $13M. Then I release Everson Griffen, saving another $11M. I have Danielle Hunter moving to RDE, and a draft pick or backup replacing Hunter at LDE. That leaves $2M left in the salary cap gap. Lastly, I release either Jarius Wright, or Laquon Treadwell and reducing Andrew Sendejo to cut the gap to zero, and even a +$2M or so.

That’s a lot of cutting, including some big name players like Everson Griffen and Reiff and Remmers. But these are the type of decisions the Vikings will be faced with for the foreseeable future. I cut Reiff and Remmers as I’m not sure they’ll be pulling their salary cap weight, and could be replaced by cheaper players of the same (or better) quality. I cut Everson because it saved the cap space. It maybe that Everson is still playing at a high level and someone else isn’t, so other player(s) not carrying their salary cap weight have to go. But one way or another, the Vikings need to stay under the salary cap, and as more core rookies come off their rookie deals, along with a top tier salary QB now, something has to give.

Obviously the draft continues to be very important in maintaining the quality of the roster, and the Vikings will need to continue to draft and develop well to keep their Super Bowl window open. It’s a young man’s game, and for most positions being over 30 means you’re a short timer.

One bonus the Vikings should see next year is more (and higher) compensatory picks in the 2019 draft. Losing 3 QBs and adding only one should result in a net of 2 compensatory picks, and both should be 3rd rounders I hope too. We’ll see. But that being the case, it may make some sense to include some 2019 draft picks as trade-able this year too, if necessary, if it helps bolster the OL and DL now, and helps ease the transition from key players as they age, to younger, promising ones that have been brought along and have some experience in the system.

But there will be tougher decisions to come in the future when it comes to building a roster and staying within the salary cap limit.