With a completely new regime the Vikings are heading towards one of the most interesting off-seasons in recent history. New General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will need to figure out what to do with an expensive Quarterback in his contract year, an aging defensive core and an unreliable offensive line while being extremely tight against the salary cap again.
The biggest question will obviously be the fate of Kirk Cousins in Minnesota. His future will impact every other decision the Vikings make this off-season and since it will have such a massive influence on how the Vikings will handle things, I decided to do three different versions of my Mock Off-Season each of them covering a different outcome of the Kirk Cousins conundrum.
Because of the title, you might have already guessed, that this version focusses on what happens, if nothing happens with Cousins and his contract. This outcome seems to be off the table for most people, but you can’t entirely rule it out. While Cousins mentioned in an interview, that he wants to stay in Minnesota for the rest of his career, his camp is still probably working on how to maximize his value financially and while their main goal might be a big extension, they might be willing to let him play out this season at his 45 million dollars cap hit, so he can hit the open market again in 2023. Because of his guarantees, Cousins has great leverage on the Vikings. He isn’t forced to sign anything below market value. The Vikings on the other hand might be hesitant to just place the fate of the new regime on the shoulders of Kirk Cousins. There’s also a chance that other teams might only send low-ball offers for Cousins due to his reported salary demands and the Vikings salary cap situation. It isn’t off the table that in the end all parties involved might settle on just playing out the last year of this contract.
FB C.J. Ham (1.95 million dollars cap savings)
I know, this might be a surprise for multiple reasons. Most people might be surprised that I did’t cut one of the more expensive veterans despite the need to get under the cap after not doing anything with Kirk Cousins.
The second reason, why a few people might be surprised or even upset is because C.J. Ham is a fan favorite and a pretty decent Fullback. Yet, this shouldn’t be a surprise for anybody considering the people the Vikings brought in. The Rams with Kevin O’Connell as their OC only had more than one Running Back on the field for a grant total of two snaps all season. They simply didn’t use a Fullback and didn’t even have one on their roster. They also brought in multiple Broncos assistants to watch over the running game including new Running Game Coordinator Curtis Modkins. This also isn’t good news for Ham because the Broncos also only had more than one Running Back on the field for four percent of their offensive plays. This all leads to the Vikings saving two million dollars of cap space while parting ways with a player, who probably doesn’t have a place in this new offense.
NT Michael Pierce to the LA Chargers for a 6th (#193) and a 7th round pick (#233)
C Garrett Bradbury to the LA Rams for a 6th round pick (#210)
The first one is a no-brainer for the Vikings and if they don’t find a trade partner, they will probably just cut him. Don’t get me wrong, Pierce played very good, when he was on the field. The second part of this sentence is the problem, though. By trading the Nose Tackle, the Vikings can save 6.5 million dollars, while still having a more than capable Nose Tackle on the roster in Dalvin Tomlinson.
The Chargers could be a logical trade partner, because they need to improve their run-defense and former Vikings NT Linval Joseph will enter free agency. They also have a big number of late draft picks, so giving up a sixth and a seventh round pick probably doesn’t hurt them a lot.
The second trade might be a bit more surprising for some people. Garrett Bradbury obviously didn’t live up to the investment of a first round pick three years ago, so a change of scenery might be beneficial for both, Bradbury and the Vikings. Due to his play over the last three years, he probably won’t net a lot in a potential trade, but at least it gives the Vikings a cap relief of a bit over two million dollars. The Rams seem like a logical destination, because he fits their scheme and they are about to lose two interior offensive linemen in free agency, including their starting Center.
ED Danielle Hunter (13.95 million dollars cap savings)
NT Dalvin Tomlinson (2.97 million dollars cap savings)
OT Brian O’Neill (3.17 million cap savings)
A lot of people probably thought, Kendricks or Smith might be among the players, who get a restructure, but I’m not willing to guarantee even more money for these aging players down the road. The Vikings are already in a tough spot, because these contracts were restructured multiple times, which pushed guaranteed money to the backend of their careers.
The case is a little bit different for Danielle Hunter. His 18 million dollar roster bonus gives him a cap hit of roughly 26 million dollars for 2022. Due to his recent injuries, the Vikings are probably not willing to do give him a long-term extension and pay him like a top edge defender. On the other hand, his trade value is also at an all-time low. Converting his roster bonus into a signing bonus saves the Vikings roughly 14 million dollars of 2022 cap space, while also not killing the 2023 cap due to the void years, which were added last season. It pushes the decison on Hunter to 2023 and gives him the opportunity to regain his value, by playing a full season in 2022.
The other two restructures have a way smaller effect on the cap. Like Hunter, Dalvin Tomlinson got multiple void years in his contract last season. This makes it impossible to move him, even if the Vikings wanted to. Letting him walk in free agency in 2023 will be costly, but the restructure doesn’t make it much worse, so it’s an easy decision.
Brian O’Neill will be a prime candidate for restructures for the next few years, because his contract runs through 2026. Due to his low base salary in 2022, the Vikings can only gain just over three million dollars with a restructure, but it has almost no effect on future years, so it’s still worth it.
WR Adam Thielen
I often see fans telling players to take a pay cut. Yet, I’d assume people would react very differently, if they would be asked to do the same on their jobs. We have to accept that the NFL is a business and players have every right to maximaze their financial benefits as much as they can. Obviously, some players will accept slight discounts at times for a number of reasons, but we can’t just assume that many players are willing to do that, if they don’t have to.
Due to that reason, I left most veteran deals untouched, so far. Adam Thielen might be one of the few players, who might be willing to listen, if the Vikings approach him with a pay cut. It probably won’t be as big as some fans hope. It still can give the Vikings a substential relief.
To get his cap hits and average numbers down, I tagged on a new year to his deal, which would give him about seven million dollars of new money. The ten million dollar signing bonus offers security for Thielen for the next two years, which is valuable for a player of his age. The Vikings would gain seven million dollars of cap space in 2022 and roughly two million dollars in 2023, while maintaining some flexibility for 2024 and beyond.
This would be a substantial pay cut for Thielen, but because of the added security through 2023 it might still be an attractive offer for the veteran receiver. The Vikings also gave Thielen a big raise a few years ago, even though the totally didn’t have to, so Thielen might be more open to give something back despite the regime change. The Vikings also listened to Thielen and other receivers when they brought Keenan McCardell back, so he probably is on good terms with the new regime.
This extension combined with the other moves brought the Vikings under the cap and provided them with open cap space of roughly 22 million dollars going into free agency. This isn’t enough to make any major splashes, but it gives the Vikings the opportunity to fill some holes and get some depth.
OL Mason Cole (1 year, 1.535 million dollars, 500 K dollars guaranteed)
DL Sheldon Richardson (2 years, 5.5 million dollars, 2 million dollars fully guaranteed)
OT Rashod Hill (1 year, 1.035 million dollars)
P Jordan Berry (1 year, 1.12 million dollars)
K Greg Joseph (1 year, 965 K dollars)
Since this is a new beginning with a new regime, I don’t expect them to pay a lot of money for re-signings of current Vikings entering free agency. Sheldon Richardson is my biggest re-signing, because he should be a good fit for Ed Donatell’s defense and he won’t demand a lot of money due to his increasing age and average production over the past few years.
Mason Cole shouldn’t be penciled in as the starter, but he is a versatile depth piece, who might get a chance to compete for an interior spot on the offensive line. Some fans might get upset, if the Vikings re-sign Rashod Hill, but he is a solid back-up offensive tackle. You just don’t see a lot of quality depth pieces for the offensive line, which is why teams are always heasitant to even trade their back-up linemen.
The specialists Jordan Berry and Greg Joseph performed well enough to be brought back, if they play at minimum salaries. The Vikings have bigger priorities and shouldn’t invest more assets into these positions.
External Free Agent signings:
OL Ted Karras (3 years, 15 million dollars, 7.5 million dollars guaranteed)
ED Lorenzo Carter (2 years, 8 million dollars, 4.5 million dollars guaranteed)
CB Sidney Jones (2 years, 7.5 million dollars, 4.5 million dollars guaranteed)
CB Darius Phillips (2 years, 5 million dollars, 2 million dollars guaranteed)
LB Josh Bynes (1 year, 1.62 million dollars fully guaranteed)
S Tashaun Gipson (1 year, 1.62 million dollars fully guaranteed)
As mentioned befor, the Vikings won’t be able to do huge splashes in free agency, if they keep the contract of Kirk Cousins on their books, but they have the opportunity to get some quality pieces to at least patch a few holes.
The biggest get is Ted Karras, who’d join the Vikings on a three year deal. He is a versatile and durable starter, who can start at center or each guard position. He won’t be able to demand much money, so he could be affordable for the Vikings.
Lorenzo Carter is a very good fit for the new defensive system, but he has yet to break out as a pass-rusher, which is why the Vikings might get him that cheap. He may be able to be a spot starter, if needed, but the Vikings should look for a potential starter at this position in the draft.
Sidney Jones and Darius Phillips are similar pieces for the secondary. Phillips has a solid reputation as a slot defender, but not good enough to keep the Vikings from looking for a potential upgrade in the draft. Sidney Jones revitalized his career in the past few years and may offer some long-term upside, if he can stay healthy.
Josh Bynes and Tashaun Gipson are cheap veteran signings, who can provide a safety blanket, if younger players can’t claim the spots next to Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith.
After free agency, the Vikings would be easily able to fit their draft class under the cap, but they won’t have much space for in-season moves, which is okay, because they probably aren’t in any position to do any all-in moves. However, they have a lot of flexibility after the contract of Kirk Cousins expires to resolve the question at quarterback or to collect high-priced free agents, if they go for a quarterback in one of the next two drafts.
I know, some fans are tired of the approach to collect more picks by trading down, but since Adofo-Mensah will probably use analytics in his process, I expect this approach to still be in place for the Vikings. I also only did one trade within the Mock Draft. The other additional picks were added through the trades of Bradbury and Pierce. The only draft day trade was the Saints moving up for a quarterback, while the Vikings got the 100th and 118th pick to move back to the 18th pick in the first round.
Trent McDuffie is a versatile cornerback, who could play inside or outside for the Vikings. Boye Mafe will be a fast riser through the draft process and could possibly go earlier. He should compete with Lorenzo Carter for reps in his rookie season. Chad Muma and Alec Lindstrom might also compete for spots at their respective positions.
Bailey Zappe probably doesn’t have the tools to be a starter in the NFL, but he might be a high-end back-up and potential spot starter, if needed. He might give the Vikings more confidence to wait to the draft to resolve the quarterback question in 2023 instead of overpaying in free agency or on the trade market.
After that, I collected some depth pieces, which are despately needed for this top-heavy roster. With this draft class, the Vikings would have 77 players under contract before adding undrafted Free Agents. This certainly wouldn’t be a roster to compete right away, but it would set the Vikings up for a potential run in 2023 and beyond.
Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond, Bailey Zappe (R), Nate Stanley
Running Back (5)
Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Tyler Allgeier (R), A.J. Rose
Wide Receiver (10)
Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Olabisi Johnson, Michael Woods II (R), Dan Chisena, Blake Proehl, Myron Mitchell, Trishton Jackson
Tight End (3)
Irv Smith jr., Ben Ellefson, Zach Davidson
Offensive Tackle (6)
Brian O’Neill, Christian Darrisaw, Oli Udoh, Rashod Hill, Blake Brandel, Timon Parris
Interior O-Line (7)
Ted Karras (FA), Ezra Cleveland, Mason Cole, Wyatt Davis, Alec Lindstrom (R), Cole Strange (R), Kyle Hinton
Defensive Line (9)
Dalvin Tomlinson, Armon Watts, Sheldon Richardson, James Lynch, Haskell Garrett (R), Jaylen Twyman, MarQuan McCall (R), T.J. Smith, Jordon Scott
Edge Defender (7)
Danielle Hunter, Lorenzo Carter (FA), Boye Mafe (R), D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, Kenny Willeckes, Janarius Robinson
Eric Kendricks, Josh Bynes (FA), Chad Muma (R), Blake Lynch, Troy Dye, Chazz Surratt, Ryan Connelly, Merlin Robertson (R), Tuf Borland
Cameron Dantzler, Sidney Jones (FA), Trent McDuffie (R), Darius Phillips (FA), Coby Bryant (R), Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, Parry Nickerson
Harrison Smith, Camrym Bynum, Tashaun Gipson (FA), Josh Metellus, Nick Grant (R), Myles Dorn
Special Teams (3)
Greg Joseph, Jordan Berry, Andrew DePaola