As the Scouting Combine is making the headlines right now, we’re approaching the most exciting part of the Off-Season with free agency already in sight. The Vikings are probably one of the most fascinating teams in the NFL with a bunch of important decisions coming up.
The most important decision obviously revolves around the Quarterback. Kirk Cousins is entering the final year of his contract at a cap number of 45 million dollars. After the first version of this Mock Off-Season showed what could happen if both sides just sit back and let the contract play out. This version will focus on how an extension of Kirk Cousins might look like and how the Vikings can build around it.
Kirk Cousins extension:
First of all: Kirk Cousins will probably not take any kind of discount and he shouldn’t be blamed for this. He has every right to maximize his financial benefits and this Off-Season is a great opportunity for him to do so. The demand for quality Quarterback play is very high, the draft class doesn’t have a good reputation, and a bunch of other veterans are looking to cash in which will further elevate the market. With Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray aiming at deals close to 50 million dollars per year and Derek Carr reportedly having a chance to get 40 million per year, I’d expect Cousins to ask for 40 million dollars per year, too.
To fit this under an already stretched out salary cap will be a huge task for the Vikings. A lot of fans have rightfully pointed out, that an extension will most certainly lower the cap hit for 2022. The problem is, that the Vikings roster is in a tough situation right now and getting this roster ready to compete for a Super Bowl is more than a huge long shot. This means to make this work for the Vikings, a new contract doesn’t only need to create a cap relief for 2022, but it also needs to provide at least a window with manageable cap numbers for at least three years.
The Vikings probably have two options to create such a window. The first option, which is the one I used for this Mock Off-Season is to give Kirk Cousins a longer extension than the ones he took so far. We don’t know if Cousins is even interested in signing a longer deal, but it could create the necessary window for the Vikings while giving Kirk Cousins another big raise. For this piece, I decided to give Cousins a four-year extension, which would look like this:
With the four added years, the Vikings would add 160 million dollars to the contract, which still contains the 45 million dollars of the upcoming season. This means, the contract would run for five more years and contain a volume of 205 million dollars with 135 million dollars being fully guaranteed at signing. His 2022 cap hit would be reduced by 15 million dollars. The two following years would also be manageable for the team with two fully guaranteed 35 million dollar cap hits. The trigger for the 2025 signing bonus is set in 2024 (the Chiefs used this trick in the extension for Patrick Mahomes), making it basically fully guaranteed, too. The first chance for the Vikings to move this contract would be in 2025 while keeping a painful 45 million dollars dead cap hit if he’s cut. However, a trade in 2025 would net the Vikings a 30 million dollar cap relief.
If Kirk Cousins rejects any long-term deal in favor of another short extension, the Vikings would need to use void years to create a manageable three-year window. However, I will not go into detail with this option because it’s not the way I used for this Mock Off-Season. If you’re interested in a detailed breakdown of a short-term extension with void years, you can check out this piece by Luke Braun at zonecoverage.com.
With the Cousins extension done, the Vikings would be able to focus on building a new roster around their Quarterback. To create space, I used the same moves as I did in the first verson of this Mock Off-Season.
FB C.J. Ham (1.95 million dollars cap savings)
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)
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)
WR Adam Thielen
The renegotiated contract of Adam Thielen has the same volume as in the first version. I just tewaked the structure a bit. Due to the Kirk Cousins extension influencing future years, I decided to not reduce his 2022 hit as much as in the first version. Instead, I reduced his 2023 hit a bit more. After the moves, the Vikings would have about 31 million dollars of 2022 cap space going into free agency.
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)
I re-signed the same players as in the first version of this Mock Off-Season. There just aren’t many more players worth keeping and the ones, who could be in consideration, are probably going to be too expensive.
External Free Agent signings:
OL Ted Karras (3 years, 15 million dollars, 7.5 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)
CB Rasul Douglas (3 years, 21 million dollars, 13 million dollars guaranteed)
ED Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (3 years, 10 million dollars, 4 million dollars guaranteed)
OL Oday Aboushi (1 year, 1.62 million dollars fully guaranteed)
QB Jacoby Brissett (2 years, 13 million dollars, 10 million dollars guaranteed)
The first four signings were also made in the first version of this Mock Off-Season. I just tweaked the terms on the deal for Karras a bit to even out the cap hits a bit more.
The biggest signing of this free agency is Rasul Douglas. The former Eagles and Packers Cornerback had a rough start to his NFL career, but enjoyed a break-out year at Green Bay last season. His defensive coordinator Joe Berry worked under Brandon Staley for the Rams before joining the Packers. Because of that, his scheme shares a lot of similarities with the expected new scheme of the Vikings, so Douglas could find similar success in Minnesota.
One interesting upside signing could be Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. He was a rotational player for the Rams, but he performed really well, when he was on the field. Obviously, the Vikings probably won’t want to enter the season with him as the unquestioned starter, but he could be a very valuable piece for the rotation.
Oday Aboushi is a rock solid veteran Guard. He spend his career bouncing around the league with stints at New York, Houston, Seattle, Arizona, Detroit and most recently at Los Angeles with the Chargers. He is a mostly reliable pass protector and should be able to start at Right Guard. However, he missed most of last season with an injury and is already over 30, so he won’t cost a lot.
And lastly, the Vikings finally get a competent back-up Quarterback again. Brissett has proven to be able to take over competently, if he is needed. Of course, it’s a bit of a stretch to pay as much for a back-up, espacially when the starter already eats up so much money. The problem is, with the extension of Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have a very narrow window to get it right and they can’t afford to lose years due to a possible injury of Cousins. Yes, Kirk Cousins has been durable throughout his career, but the Vikings can’t take this for granted, so they shoud finally get a back-up, who is able to win a few games, if Kirk Cousins is forced to sit a few games out.
After free agency, the Vikings would have just over ten million dollars left, so they can comfortably fit the rookie class under the cap and still have a little bit left for minor in-season moves. They’re also in a position to be more aggressive in 2023, to potentially get two shots with Kirk Cousins.
With the Vikings only signing a rotational player in free agency, the Edge Rusher position becomes the highest priority in the draft. Due to the exceptional depth at the position, the Vikings can afford to trade down a few spots. In this case, they dropped to the 21st pick, while gaining the 54th and 125th pick.
Getting George Karlaftis at #21 would be a huge steal. He lost some positions at many boards and he might not be the most obvious fit for the new defense, but in this case, I just went with quality over scheme fit, especially, because, we’ll probably see a lot of 4-2 fronts throughout the season.
At #46, I wasn’t set on taking a Cornerback, but Kaiir Elam at this position was too good to pass up. He looked like a sure first round pick not long ago, but he fell on many board, because of some uneven tape last season.
I traded back again at #54. For dropping to #61, I received the 171st and 251st pick. In Darrian Beavers, the Vikings would get a versatile off-ball linebacker with the measurables of a small Edge Rusher. However, he can still hold his own in zone coverage.
With the last day two pick, the Vikings secure a versatile offensive weapon in Wan’Dale Robinson. He is a fast receiver, who can be used on gadget plays. However, despite his size, he’s a tough runner after the catch and surprisingly successfull in contested catch situations, so he might not even need manufactured touches to contribute right away.
With a slew of day three picks, I was able to collect much needed depth across the roster. With the big extension for Cousins, the Vikings will need contributions from this group to be successful. They’re probably too far away to compete in 2022, but because of the structure of Kirk’s deal, the Vikings need to get back to contention in 2023. Having 36 million dollars of projected cap space and some flexibility within the contracts for a few aging veterans will help, but the will need way above average hit rates in free agency and the draft, if they want to get an actual shot with Kirk Cousins as their Quarterback going forward.
Kirk Cousins, Jacoby Brissett (FA), Kellen Mond, Nate Stanley
Running Back (5)
Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Abram Smith (R), A.J. Rose
Wide Receiver (11)
Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Wan’Dale Robinson (R), Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Olabisi Johnson, Dan Chisena, Mike Harley (R), Blake Proehl, Myron Mitchell, Trishton Jackson
Tight End (4)
Irv Smith jr., Ben Ellefson, Charlie Kolar (R), Zach Davidson
Offensive Tackle (6)
Brian O’Neill, Christian Darrisaw, Oli Udoh, Rashod Hill, Blake Brandel, Timon Parris
Interior O-Line (8)
Ted Karras (FA), Ezra Cleveland, Oday Aboushi (FA), Mason Cole, Wyatt Davis, James Empey (R), Luke Fortner (R), Kyle Hinton
Defensive Line (8)
Dalvin Tomlinson, Armon Watts, Sheldon Richardson, James Lynch, Otito Ogbonnia (R), Jaylen Twyman, T.J. Smith, Jordon Scott
Edge Defender (8)
Danielle Hunter, George Karlaftis (R), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (FA), D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, Kenny Willeckes, Jeffrey Gunter (R), Janarius Robinson
Eric Kendricks, Josh Bynes (FA), Darrian Beavers (R), Blake Lynch, Troy Dye, Chazz Surratt, Ryan Connelly, Mike Rose (R), Tuf Borland
Cameron Dantzler, Rasul Douglas (FA), Darius Phillips (FA), Kaiir Elam (R), Damarri Mathis (R), Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, Parry Nickerson
Harrison Smith, Camrym Bynum, Tashaun Gipson (FA), Markquese Bell (R), Smoke Monday (R), Josh Metellus, Myles Dorn
Special Teams (3)
Greg Joseph, Jordan Berry, Andrew DePaola