NFL Free Agency feels like it’s getting crazier every season. Two of the league’s top wide receivers were traded, the Vikings nabbed a linebacker from the Jets I’m not too familiar with although the photoshops of him in purple look fantastic, and lordy to be a top safety in this league means you are getting paid.
Or ‘getting the bag’, as the cool kids on Twitter have been saying, over and over. And over. And over.
For the Vikings, though, it’s been relatively quiet so far. In recent years they’ve been pretty big spenders, getting Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers, Sheldon Richardson, and Kirk Cousins in the last two years. But 2019 has been different, at least to this point. Due in part to past free agent signings and contract extensions to core players, the Vikings have sat out the first wave of free agency, as they are very tight against the salary cap. When you don’t have a lot of money, you get a lot of nothing. Money...for nothing...that’s about the state of things, isn’t it, Mr. Knopfler?
Now look at them yo-yo’s, that’s the way you do it
You play the football on the big TV
That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free
Now that ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it
Lemme tell ya, them guys ain’t dumb
Get a dis-lo-ca-tion your little finger
Maybe get a broken thumb
We gotta install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries
We gotta move these refrigerators
We gotta move these color TV’s
Your SMR that literally threw up when the Jets asked me to write for them follows.
Blue Chip Stocks
Anthony Barr, LB: What a weird 12’ish hours that was. On the first evening of legal tampering, it was reported that Barr was going to sign with the New York Jets, and cash in on a pretty good payday. Early the next morning, we learned Sheldon Richardson was taking his talents to Cleveland, and it looked like two big parts of last year’s defense were gone for good. But then, later that afternoon, Barr had a change of heart and decided to return to Minnesota, for less money.
After watching the Vikings initially lose Barr, lose Richardson, and sit out the first wave trying to sign some offensive line help because of cap constraints, the news of Barr returning to Minnesota was most welcome, indeed. With Barr back, what a lot of people consider the key guy that makes the Vikings defense work is back. I know a lot of folks had soured on Barr, but Nick Olson of Vikings Territory had a nice Twitter thread on what Barr means to the defense:
Among all off-ball linebackers last year, Anthony Barr ranked…— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) March 12, 2019
• 1st in pass rush productivity,
• Top 20 in run defense grade,
• 2nd in yards allowed per coverage snap,
• 3rd in coverage snaps per target, and
• 3rd in coverage snaps per catch allowed
Most everyone thought the Vikings would either sign one of Barr or Richardson, and I personally thought it was essential that one of them came back to even remotely consider free agency a success.
Rob Brzezinski, Salary Cap God Who Is A Man Among Boys: After the Vikings tendered Anthony Harris and Rashod Hill, they had under a million bucks in cap space available. Barr left, then Richardson left, and it felt like the Vikings were in for a pretty dismal few days. Then somehow, some way, Brzezinski worked some magic, got Barr back into the fold, and the Vikes were also able to re-do Everson Griffen’s deal (more on that in a minute).
Every year I say this, and every year it bears repeating: I have no idea what the Vikings are paying Brzezinski, but it’s not enough. The guy is a genius with how to manipulate the cap.
Anthony Harris, S: One of the low key solid moves the Vikings made was when they put a second round tender on Anthony Harris, who played well enough in place of Andrew Sendejo last year to make Sendejo expendable. When some of the insane contracts safeties are getting were initially being reported, I kind of thought that some teams might think it would be worth giving up a second round draft pick to get a good player a lot cheaper than what a Landon Collins was going for. But as the first wave has died down, it looks like that’s no longer a concern.
With Harris and Barr coming back, they have 10 of 11 starters returning on one of the top defenses in the NFL, a fairly remarkable run of consistency in the salary cap age.
Shamar Stephen, DT: Old friend Shamar Stephen returns to the Vikings, and if you want to count him as the starter replacing Richardson, the Vikings will have all 11 starters from the 2017 defense returning, depending on what happens with Tom Johnson. He struggled in Seattle, but hopefully a return to the Vikings defense and a familiar role will help him regain his form that helped the Vikings become the top rush defense in the NFL in 2017.
No one...yet: All things considered, I’m going to hold off on this, but I reserve the right to change my mind. I believe the offensive line needs to be addressed, but we’re barely 24 hours into free agency, and the draft is still over a month away. However, with the Griffen re-structure, the Vikes are really limited in what they can do in free agency in terms of who or how many players they can sign. As I write this, the Vikes are in contact with G Nick Easton, who missed all of last year with a herniated disc in his neck. I hope that’s not the only guy they kick the tires on as free agency progresses, because Easton is also visiting the Saints, and reportedly has interest from other teams, too. If Easton signs elsewhere, and the Vikings fail to seriously address the o-line again, Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer should be on the hot seat.
But not Brzezinski. He’s cool. Please don’t fire him.
Buy: Everson Griffen staying. The simple thing for the Vikings to do would have been to cut Griffen and save $10 million in cap space, while only incurring a little over $1 million in dead cap space. However, the Vikings worked hard to bring back their emotional and fiery leader, and saved about $4 million in cap space to do so (I’ve read anywhere from $3.7 to $4.3 million, so I averaged it to 4).
With Richardson leaving, losing him and Griff would have been a tough blow for the defensive line, and having him back will be a boost to both teammates and fans.
Sell: The whole Griffen timeline. I almost gave Rick Spielman a junk bond rating because of how I feel the Vikings mishandled this entire drama. The team faced a pretty straightforward choice: Keep Griffen, re-structure, or release him. Releasing him was the easiest option, and would have helped the Vikes address other needs early on, and with the extra cap space. Keeping him at his full salary wasn’t an option, and the Vikes didn’t want to release him, so the two sides worked on a new deal.
Only while Griffen was mulling his options, the new league year began, and Minnesota missed out on possibly addressing a need at kicker. All Pro Jason Myers was released by the Jets, but Minnesota was being held hostage by Griffen’s contract:
Jets Pro Bowl kicker Jason Myers is leaving to sign with a new team as a free agent. The #Vikings expressed interest in Myers but didn't have the money to sign him, so he's not going there. And I'm told he's also not going to the Bears.— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) March 13, 2019
With less than three million dollars in cap space at the time, Myers ended up signing with Seattle. Kicking the tires on an offensive lineman was pretty much out of the question, too, and the Vikings waited until almost the Thursday deadline to hear from Griffen.
When the deal was announced, it was revealed that the cap savings wasn’t as big as most people had hoped or anticipated. Even with the new deal, the Vikings have just over $7 million available in cap space, per Courtney Cronin of ESPN:
Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen has agreed to the terms of a contract restructure, multiple sources told ESPN, and signed his deal around 3 p.m. CT on Thursday. To avoid becoming a cap casualty, Griffen agreed to drop his base salary from $10.9... https://t.co/Dx7r1IR306— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) March 14, 2019
Minnesota wasn’t ever going to have the money available to sign a top of the list offensive lineman like, say, Roger Saffold. With all the big money contracts the Vikings have dished out in recent years, being big spenders wasn’t happening this year, and that’s fine. But what isn’t fine is that Rick Spielman didn’t give an ultimatum to Griffen and his representatives earlier than they did, so they could work on other areas of need.
Yet they waited, but Griffen is back, and that’s not a bad thing. For all Griff has done for the Vikings though, he’s now over 30 years old and on the downside of his career, has been injured more than he’s been healthy the last two years, and they arguably had a guy ready to take over in Stephen Weatherly. It’s not Nero fiddling while Rome burned, but I thought this was really poorly handled.
Buy: Trying to keep Nick Easton to fix the offensive line. Getting Easton back would be a good first start to repairing the offensive line. He played well in 2017, and if he can come back healthy in 2019 it could go a long way to stabilizing a position group that desperately needs improvement.
Sell: The proposed fixes so far are less than convincing. So, let’s look at the recent history of the offensive line rebuild plans for the Vikings, shall we?
2016: Hey let’s hope injured guys return to form. Fail.
2017-18: Hey let’s move guys around and play them out of their normal position. Fail.
The #Vikings are in contact with Nick Easton’s agent regarding a re-signing, according to GM Rick Spielman. Says he still fits the athletic build they’re looking for.— Andrew Krammer (@Andrew_Krammer) March 14, 2019
Our own @Charley_Walters reported in December that the #Vikings were talking about the possibility of moving Riley Reiff from left tackle to guard. That's even more realistic now that Remmers has been let go.— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) March 11, 2019
LET US COMBINE THESE PLANS BECAUSE TWO NEGATIVES WILL MAKE A POSITIVE WOOOOO!!!!!!