Coming into this off-season, it was setting up to be unlike more recent off-seasons as the Vikings’ salary-cap situation didn’t allow for much in terms of free-agent acquisitions.
So with guys like Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson free-agents, the offensive line still in need of a talent influx, and other needs to fill and guys to sign, something has to give.
According to Spotrac, the Vikings have about $187 million allocated in their top 51 salaries, and the salary cap for 2019 has been set at $188.2 million. And so we can see that any potential acquisitions or extensions will need to be off-set by cuts elsewhere.
That leaves Rick Spielman in a position he hasn’t had to deal with much - dealing away current starters and being forced to let some former core players walk.
Anthony Barr Seems Unlikely to be Extended
One of the likely losses includes free agent Anthony Barr, whom the Vikings were unable to come to contract terms with last season, and reportedly tried to trade last year as well. The rumor is that Barr could be heading back home to Los Angeles, as the Rams may part ways with Mark Barron, who is both a nearly $10 million salary cap hit and an underwhelming performer in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. Barr could play multiple LB positions in that scheme, and Phillips could put him to good use as a zone blitzer, run stopper and/or edge rusher. It makes too much sense for him not to go there, so I would not be surprised if Barr comes to terms early in free agency and signs with the Rams.
Mike Zimmer reportedly wants to retain Barr and Sheldon Richardson, but money talks and particularly with Anthony Barr, moving to his hometown and a 3-4 scheme makes a lot of sense. And with a price tag perhaps around $15 million/year, he’s not affordable for the Vikings.
Sheldon Richardson’s Future as a Viking Seems About 50-50
There hasn’t been much by way of rumors about Sheldon Richardson, and he didn’t express a desire to return to the Vikings at the end of last season. Richardson is one of the top players in free-agency this year, and he’ll likely get offers from other teams besides the Vikings. Money will be a key factor for Richardson, as will a team’s ability to contend for a title - both were mentioned by Richardson as key for him last year when he signed with the Vikings. The Vikings paid him $8 million last year, and I don’t see him getting offers for much more than that. This is a strong draft class for interior defensive linemen, so that could factor into what some teams are willing to offer Richardson. My guess is that the Vikings will be able to field a competitive offer to Richardson, but whether he takes it or another offer may come down to other factors.
I suspect Richardson may be more of a priority for the Vikings, as he has a good year last season and the Vikings’ depth at 3-tech is weak. Extending Richardson would also allow the Vikings to use their top draft picks on OL.
Trae Waynes Likely to be Traded
But to sign Richardson, the Vikings will need to make salary cap room. Apparently Rick Spielman is shopping CB Trae Waynes at the Combine, which doesn’t surprise me, given the Vikings’ depth at cornerback. Waynes also has zero dead cap if traded, while trading Xavier Rhodes would bring a $7.2 million dead cap hit. Waynes is also the easier to trade in some ways as he has a $9 million cap hit this year and could be extended at age 26, while Rhodes has multiple years of $13-$14 million cap hits at age 28 and with some durability concerns having missed several games the past couple years. Keeping Rhodes, despite those concerns, makes some sense for the Vikings as well, as he is a big-bodied corner that matches up well against bigger receivers, while guys like Holton Hill and Mike Hughes are more like Waynes in terms of match-up characteristics.
Any number of teams could use a proven, solid cornerback like Trae Waynes. Marcus Peters getting a 2nd and 4th round pick last year from the Rams in a less than ideal trading situation for the Chiefs as Peters was a locker room cancer, suggests Waynes could get at least that much in compensation, although Waynes has only a one-year contract and Peters had two years left on his. Waynes has always been a good run defender, and has excelled in man coverage. Those skills could make him an asset for a number of teams and schemes, and could bring the Vikings a late first-round pick, or equivalent in multiple picks.
In any case, with the depth the Vikings have at cornerback, and the need to make salary cap space for other considerations, it seems unlikely Trae Waynes will be apart of the Vikings roster going forward.
Anthony Harris Looks Very Likely to Replace Andrew Sendejo
Another likely change to the starting roster for the Vikings in 2019 is Anthony Harris at safety. This is only a partial change, as Harris was the starting safety for most of the 2018 season after Andrew Sendejo went down with a groin injury. But Harris made the most of his opportunity, and was the highest graded player on defense for the Vikings last year, and very likely played his way into a permanent starter. He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Vikings will at a minimum need to put in a RFA tender offer for Harris. It may be that the Vikings choose to go a little further with Harris, and make him an offer for a multi-year extension - similar to what they did with Adam Thielen who had a breakout year when he was an RFA. That worked very well for the Vikings, who got a top WR for around $5 million a year. The Vikings could look to make a similar deal with Harris to lock him in for the next few years.
But if Harris takes over the starting job at safety next to Harrison Smith, that makes Andrew Sendejo and his $5.5 million salary cap hit redundant. Sendejo’s contract has no deadcap in the event he is cut, so that seems an easy move for the Vikings to make in order to make room for Harris’ extension. It’s possible the Vikings could opt to retain Sendejo as a lower salary - say $2 million - as a backup safety which makes some sense and perhaps Sendejo would be agreeable. But restructuring Sendejo’s contract also makes him more of a trade possibility. Sendejo had his two best seasons in 2017 and what he played in 2018, so for the right salary there may be teams out there who need a solid and experienced safety as a stop-gap option for a couple years, and who would be willing to part with a late-round pick in trade.
Latavius Murray Returning Also in Doubt
Dalvin Cook being injured and limited last season gave Latavius Murray more snaps than expected last season, and I’m sure the Vikings were happy to have an experienced three-down back to fill-in as needed. But Murray said recently that he’s looking for a starting job, which would seem to preclude him from returning to the Vikings, given Dalvin Cook’s pretty solid status as starting running back when healthy. Undoubtedly Murray sees older running backs like Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson having an impact - and several others in previous seasons - and sees opportunity for himself.
From the Vikings perspective, while Murray’s experience is nice to have, they also have a some backs that could replace Murray as well. Mike Boone has shown promise as more of a power running back (albeit about 25lbs less than Murray) along with fullback CJ Ham - who weighs about the same as Murray. There is also Roc Thomas, who is more of a backup in style to Dalvin Cook. So, if Murray decides to pursue a starting job elsewhere, the Vikings could end-up replacing his services with guys currently on the roster.
This brings up C.J. Ham, who is currently an exclusive rights free agent or ERFA. This means the Vikings can extend him for next to nothing in NFL salary terms (most likely in the $500k - $1 million range) and I fully expect that they will do so.
Everson Griffen and the Ides of March
Everson Griffen’s 2019 salary of $10,900,000 becomes fully guaranteed on March 15, 2019. His overall salary cap hit for the year is $11,743,750, and he has only $1.2 million in dead cap if released or traded. Griffen’s salary cap hit increases to $13.9 million, $14.4 million, and $15.5 million in his remaining contract years. He is also 31 years old and missed several games this past season with a mental illness.
In the meantime, Danielle Hunter has emerged as the Vikings’ premier pass rusher, and could be better used in Mike Zimmer’s scheme at the right end position - where he played about 40% of the time last season.
At the same time, the Vikings have guys like Stephen Weatherly and potentially Ifeadi Odenigbo who could play the left end position. Indeed, Weatherly had extended playing time last year, and upped his game over previous years. In fact, he was very comparable to Everson Griffen last season. Consider the stats:
524 snaps, 27 pressures (3 sacks, 6 hits, 18 hurries), 28 tackles, 2 assists, 6 missed, 23 stops, 1 forced fumble.
585 snaps, 28 pressures (7 sacks, 6 hits, 15 hurries), 23 tackles, 6 assists, 4 missed, 23 stops.
Hard to say who has more upside from here, although age would suggest Weatherly, but it’s clear who the better value is as Weatherly is set to count only $720k against the salary cap this year - a contract year for him.
Odenigbo was offered a roster spot late last season by the Eagles - he was on the Vikings practice squad - but turned it down as they Vikings told him they, “had a plan for him” and matched the Eagles’ salary offer. That suggests the coaching staff is pleased with Odenigbo’s progress. He has bulked up from around 255 lbs to 275 lbs over the past year or so, which is more traditional for a 4-3 base defensive end. Odenigbo doesn’t have Hunter’s length, but he does have solid core strength to set an edge and defend the run. We’ll see where he ends up this year.
But what does this all mean for Everson Griffen?
First it could mean that the Vikings may want to restructure Griffen’s contract, and/or trade or release him prior to March 15th. If they succeed in doing so, Griffen could potentially see more snaps at left end in the coming year(s), and Hunter more at right end.
Brandon Graham’s extension (Graham will turn 31 in April) for $40 million over 3 years, is exactly what Griffen is getting over the next three years, although Graham has been much higher graded in the past than Griffen (Graham has an average overall PFF grade of 90 the past three seasons, Griffen has a 73). Graham also has missed only one game since 2012.
So, the Vikings have an argument that Griffen’s value is less than Graham’s, and a restructuring is called for. Griffen could balk at that, which could allow him to test the open market for his services. I suspect that market would pay him somewhat less than he’s getting now. The Vikings could offer him in the range of $7 million plus $2 million in incentives /year over 2-3 years in a restructured contract. That would reflect more his value to the Vikings at this point in time. But with guys like Weatherly, Odenigbo, Bower and Arune coming up and Hunter having surpassed him, the Vikings should be willing to part ways with Griffen if he is not willing to restructure his deal.
Parting Ways with Mike Remmers
On the offensive side, Mike Remmers seems a lot less necessary today than he was two years ago. Remmers was never more than an average right tackle, and this is no longer a need for the Vikings at this point in time. Moreover, the experiment with Remmers at right guard didn’t go well, which leaves Remmers’ $6.35 million salary cap hit this year very much on the chopping block, particularly with only $1.2 million in dead cap should the Vikings choose to part ways with him.
This seems entirely logical, as Remmers just doesn’t fit with the Vikings any longer. Freeing up $5 million in salary cap may also enable the Vikings to acquire someone who does - like center Matt Paradis. Paradis had his break-out season under Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison as his offensive line coach, so those guys could definitely be a draw for Paradis if the Vikings are able to provide a competitive offer. I suspect that may be in the $10 million/year range for a center who has been one of the best and most consistent in the league since 2015. Paradis is recovering from a fractured fibula, but reports say he is recovering well and ahead of schedule. Still, it is the type of injury that can potentially impact his future, and could likely be a factor as he hits the open market.
Landing Paradis would mean Pat Elflein is no longer seen as the starting center. Most likely he would compete as a guard. Elflein’s performance has been underwhelming over his first two seasons with the Vikings, and it’s unclear if he’ll able to improve his game going forward.
Time to Punt on Laquon Treadwell?
Laquon Treadwell continued to not meet expectations last season, and prior to the season Mike Zimmer quoted his mentor Bill Parcells as saying if a young player can’t make it in three seasons, it’s time to move on. Well, that’s the case with Treadwell at this point.
The Vikings would not save any salary cap space if they just cut Treadwell - his $3.161 million salary is also all deadcap money, but they could save $1.8 million in cap space if they were able to trade him. That’s not a lot, but the question with Treadwell is more about the roster spot than anything else. I suspect the Vikings could extend Aldrick Robinson with the money they save by trading Treadwell, or maybe they try another guy who never made it like Kevin White - who would be more of the deep threat the Vikings need and perhaps could benefit by being guarded by a defense’s third best corner in most situations.
But All That Still Doesn’t Leave Much Cap Space
If the Vikings cut Remmers and restructure Griffen, allowing them to acquire Matt Paradis, that is probably pretty close to salary cap neutral overall. If Anthony Harris replaces Andrew Sendejo, that is likely to be pretty close to salary cap neutral as well. And if Trae Waynes is traded and Sheldon Richardson extended, that would be pretty close to salary cap neutral as well.
So, if all that were to happen, the Vikings wouldn’t have much salary cap space to make many free agent acquisitions. Keep in mind they would still need to sign a kicker, punter, and perhaps a couple other ancillary players, along with their draft picks.
That Means Developing Young Talent Need to Step Up
What gets lost in just about every off-season discussion is emerging players currently on the roster. Roster holes tend to get filled by exciting draft picks and free agents - but hardly ever by backup guys that haven’t shown much yet.
And yet this is a key part of why the Vikings are pretty well set at just about every position group except offensive line.
Two guys that could be week one starters in September include Anthony Harris and Stephen Weatherly. Neither of those guys looked like they’d contribute much this time last year - or perhaps even make the roster. But they stepped up and particularly in the case of Harris, proved to be an upgrade.
If the Vikings part ways with Everson Griffen and Andrew Sendejo, they’ll need both of them to continue to play well going forward.
If Latavius Murray is not retained, guys like Mike Boone, Roc Thomas and C.J. Ham will need to step up.
If Sheldon Richardson is not re-signed, then a guy like Ifeadi Odenigbo or a new draft pick will need to step up.
And if Anthony Barr is lost in free agency, a guy like Eric Wilson need to step up. Or potentially a guy like Hercules Mata’ Afa or Kentrell Brothers or Devante Downs - or maybe even a guy like George Iloka if the Vikings decide to re-sign him.
The Draft - As Always - Will Be Key
Beyond having a few of the guys mentioned above step-up next year, the Vikings may well need at least a couple draft picks to step-up as well.
If the Vikings were able to land Matt Paradis, I expect they will still pursue an interior lineman in the draft - and maybe even with their first pick. The Vikings have met with G Chris Lindstrom, OT Dalton Risner, OT Cody Ford, C/G Michael Jordan, C Lamont Gaillard (twice), Greg Little, and a handful of other most likely late round offensive linemen according to Walter Football. Basically about 80% of the Vikings visits so far have been with offensive linemen. So at this point it seems pretty likely the Vikings will go OL with one or more or their top picks. As they should.
Early speculation is that the top half of the first round will be mostly defensive selections, so the Vikings could have Lindstrom, Risner and possibly Ford to choose from at 18. We can quibble about whether a guy is worth it or not at 18, or maybe should draft him later, but any of those three could be a good pick at 18. I would love to see the Vikings pick up two of those guys if they acquire more draft capital by trading Trae Waynes.
In the coming weeks, the Vikings could officially part ways with several starters in years past - Anthony Barr, Trae Waynes, Everson Griffen, Andrew Sendejo, Sheldon Richardson, Mike Remmers, and Latavius Murray - leading to more turnover in the Vikings starting roster tan in recent years. How that effects the 2019 season will depend on how well their replacements are able to step-up.
In most cases the Vikings have the guys on the roster who can step up and do at least as well. But in other cases they’ll need to acquire capable replacements. How well all the new players gel together will be key in determining how far the Vikings go next season.