Minnesota Vikings training camp starts next weekend on July 29th, but will this coming week be a busier one for the Vikings’ front office? At the moment, the Vikings have two empty roster spots, a little over $19 million in salary cap space according to Spotrac, a contract impasse with their best edge rusher Danielle Hunter, and at least a few other key players on the last year of their contract.
The Vikings have done a few extension deals in the past just before or during training camp, and perhaps there will be a deal or two done this year too. And there are still two roster spots and lots of free agents to work with as well.
Let’s take a look at some deals the Vikings could potentially strike in the very near future.
Danielle Hunter Extension (or Trade)
One would expect either a hold-out or a hold-in from Danielle Hunter if a new contract is not agreed, given his hold-out from the off-season program so far this season. Holding-in means Hunter shows up for training camp but doesn’t participate to avoid the $50,000 daily fine for missing training camp. But that is not a good situation for either side and you’d think a solution to the impasse would be found before it got to that.
Local Vikings’ beat reporter Darren Wolfson said recently that his sense was that the Vikings and Brian Flores want Hunter on the field and that they were willing to give Hunter a sizeable bump in pay this year. He also said his sense was that the issue was the amount of guaranteed money for Hunter in future years beyond the 2023 season.
This isn’t the first time this issue has come up since Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took over as GM. The same issue proved to be an impasse in the Kirk Cousins extension talks earlier this year as well. Adofo-Mensah hasn’t given out a veteran contract longer than three years since becoming GM for the Vikings, and with players on the back-nine of their careers, he seems to be even more reluctant to guarantee money beyond a couple of years at most. Hunter will turn 29 later this year.
An extension for Hunter will likely eat into the Vikings available salary cap space as he has only $4.9 million in base salary this year. That isn’t much to convert to a signing bonus and push into future years. Still, the Vikings could give Hunter a pay bump this year in the form of a $20 million signing bonus let’s say, which could be spread over the length of the contract- let’s say four years (two real and two void years). That would result in a $5 million additional cap hit for the Vikings this year, assuming they didn’t convert any of Hunter’s base salary into a signing bonus as well. If they did, that could reduce the additional cap hit to just a few million. The issue in doing so is that it would make Hunter a big cap hit- likely $30 million or more- for the next couple years. Hunter is already a $5.6 million dead cap hit in 2024 and 2025, and that would double under this signing bonus scenario. And that doesn’t include Hunter’s base salary in future years, which could easily be $20+ million.
That’s what makes it difficult for the Vikings. And on Hunter’s side, he could be pushing for a four- or five-year contract, which are recent comparables for edge rushers his age or older. But the key will be the guaranteed money. My guess is that the Vikings don’t want to be on the hook for too much guaranteed money beyond 2024, when Hunter will be 30, but hopefully a compromise can be reached.
If not, the Vikings may be forced to put Hunter on the trade block. What sort of compensation they could get for him at this point in the season is a big question mark, however.
The Vikings didn’t spend a second-round pick to acquire Hockenson to be a year-and-a-half rental. He’s a $9.4 million cap hit this season, his last under contract, and has a $14.4 million market value according to Spotrac. He’s a top four tight-end (at least according to Madden24) and having just turned 26 could be a long-term core player for the Vikings.
If Adofo-Mensah is willing to sign a longer deal this would be a case to do so, given Hockenson’s age and trajectory. A five-year, $75 million extension with $45 million guaranteed wouldn’t be out of line and would take him to age 31. The Vikings could convert some of his base salary to a signing bonus this year if they wanted and give him a $15 million signing bonus on top of that, with guaranteed $15 million base salaries in 2024 and 2025. Such a deal could be done to off-set some/most/all of the added salary cap hit of a potential Hunter deal this year.
Cousins has said he’ll look at a contract extension next March, and maybe that’s what happens. But maybe the Vikings, now that the draft is over and a franchise quarterback doesn’t appear to be on the roster, are willing to revisit the deal they balked at earlier this year. From Ben Goessling and Andrew Krammer’s reporting, Cousins was willing to take around a $5 million discount to his $43 million market value, but wanted a 3-year, fully guaranteed deal. The Vikings were only willing to guarantee 2024
and 2025. It would seem unlikely that the Vikings would be able to draft and groom a quarterback much before the 2025 season at this point (assuming the draft a QB high in 2024 and develop him a season) and the fact they were willing to guarantee him through 2024 suggests the Vikings had no immediate other plans at quarterback. Cousins’ longevity may be the main concern, as he turns 35 next month.
Still, it’s doubtful the Vikings will get a better deal next March unless Cousins’ production takes a nosedive this season- but perhaps that’s a risk the Vikings are willing to take. The Vikings have a $28.5 million dead cap hit in 2024 for Cousins if no extension is done, and no proven successor at quarterback, so that would appear to give Cousins the leverage should the Vikings choose to wait.
Extending Justin Jefferson is clearly a stated priority for the Vikings organization, and there is little doubt an extension will get done. However, it may not be done this season. The reason boils down to salary cap management more than anything else. JJ is a $4 million salary cap hit this year, and a $19 million salary cap hit next season. It would make more sense to do an extension for him early in the 2024 season, converting most of his $19 million salary into a signing bonus as part of a mega-deal extension for JJ that is likely to top $30 million in average annual salary.
It’s still possible the Vikings extend JJ this season, but unless it’s a priority on JJ’s side that a deal is done this season, there is no reason on the Vikings’ side not to put it off until March.
There doesn’t appear to be any urgency to extend other players in the last year of their contract. There haven’t been any talks reported between the Vikings and Ezra Cleveland, and it would appear the Vikings are taking the same approach with Cleveland as they did with Garrett Bradbury. Others in the last year of their contract that could be extended at some point include Josh Metellus, Chris Reed, Greg Joseph, Jordan Hicks, and KJ Osborn. Oli Udoh was just given a one-year deal, and others on the last year of their contract are more questionable to be extended.
Two Empty Roster Spots
The Vikings also have two empty roster spots, and presumably they’ll want to get up to the maximum allowed for training camp. Perhaps the Vikings could bring in one or two veterans familiar with Brian Flores’ defense- someone like Kyle Van Noy or Trey Flowers- especially if they’re not sold on DJ Wonnum, who’s on the last year of his contract and could be released for a $2.743 million cap savings - most likely more than they’d pay Van Noy or Flowers. They could also help teach Flores’ system to other players during training camp if nothing else.
Beyond that, however, there aren’t a lot of immediate needs that could be filled with an available free agent. Maybe Shelby Harris at defensive tackle if they felt a need there. But in most cases the Vikings have young players that they want to give reps and develop into starters or at least rotational players, so bringing in a veteran rental only makes sense if the young players aren’t showing enough progress.
The Vikings have $19 million in salary cap space and it seems unlikely that their intent is to sit on it and roll it into next season. Getting a deal done with Danielle Hunter is the most urgent, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings did a few deals in the next week to help solidify their roster both going into training camp and beyond.
Will Danielle Hunter be extended before the start of training camp?
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