Possible solutions for Vikings to clear cap space before free agency
If the Minnesota Vikings are going to improve their roster this offseason — whether it’s re-signing two key defensive players in Anthony Harris and Trae Waynes or strengthening the offensive line in free agency — they’ll need some money to do so. Unfortunately for general manager Rick Spielman and the rest of the Vikings brass, Minnesota ranks dead last in the NFL in cap space at -$11.2 million. How can the Vikings clear up space? FOX Sports North lists a few quick solutions (all salary-cap info from OverTheCap.com):
Cut ties with defensive end Everson Griffen
Here’s an easy way to save $13.1 million: bid farewell to Griffen. Griffen’s restructured deal he agreed to in 2019 slots him at a $13.9 million cap hit for 2020, but it also gives him an option to void the contract by Feb. 25. Why would he want to do that? Well, he doesn’t have much guaranteed money on his current contract, meaning the Vikings can cut him for basically nothing. At age 32, this might be Griffen’s last chance to cash in on a multiyear deal with big guaranteed dollars. Reports on Thursday morning indicate this is the way Griffen will go, which means the Vikings can bring him back for significantly less money or let him walk. But do they even need him back? Griffen’s leadership qualities aside, Minnesota is loaded with depth at the position in rising stars Ifeadi Odenigbo and Stephen Weatherly that could easily step in and fill the void opposite Danielle Hunter. With 41 tackles, 24 quarterback hits and 8.0 sacks to his name last season at age 32, Griffen still has quality football left in him. But Minnesota has more pressing needs to address.
Cut cornerback Xavier Rhodes
Even though he ended up getting a free trip to Orlando, Fla., in January, Rhodes was far from a Pro Bowl cornerback last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Rhodes was one of 87 cornerbacks to see 50+ targets from opposing quarterbacks. He allowed an 84.3% completion rate on those passes, which was the worst mark among his peers by over 4%. Yikes. Rhodes is due $12.9 million in 2020 and has a cap hit of $4.8 if released. This frees up $8.1 million in space for Minnesota and might be the biggest no-brainer of the offseason.
Cut defensive tackle Linval Joseph
“Linval Hungry” might be eating too much of the cap space for Minnesota to bring him back. In his sixth season with the Vikings, Joseph tallied 44 tackles, six tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and 3.0 sacks. But his main job — stopping the run — might have taken a step back in 2019. The Vikings ranked 13th in the NFL against the run (108 yards per game) but were exposed late in the season when they yielded 150+ rushing yards in four of their final seven contests (including the playoffs). Joseph, who is on the books for $12.9 million in 2020, would take up $2.4 million in dead money if released. This frees up almost $10.5 million for the Vikings to use going forward.
Give Kirk Cousins a contract extension
Oh boy. We can’t wait for the comments on this suggestion. Look, Cousins deserves a contract extension. He threw for 3,603 yards, 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2019 and ranked fourth in the NFL with a 107.4 passer rating. And let’s not forget that playoff win over New Orleans and the game-winning drive in overtime. Draft and develop a quarterback? Sure. But the Vikings aren’t going to find (or pay for) a better quarterback in free agency over the next few years. It’s a win-win situation for both Cousins and the Vikings. Cousins wants to stay in Minnesota, and the Vikings need cap space. Spielman and salary cap genius Rob Brzezinski can backload the extension, meaning Cousins would give up a bit of his salary for 2020 and push it back to later years in the contract when the Vikings have more wiggle room. Boom. There’s a few more dollars for this offseason.
Trade wide receiver Stefon Diggs (actually, don’t do this)
This by far makes the least amount of sense for Minnesota and is 100% just an overreaction to Diggs’ activity on social media. The wide receiver has been sending out cryptic tweets all offseason like “you gotta know the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism” and “I fell back a hundred times when I don’t get the credit … seen this movie a hundred times I know where it’s headed.” Ok, the latter tweet is a line from a Drake song, but … still. Diggs also removed every picture and mention of the Vikings from his Instagram account. And remember when he missed practice back in October because he was unhappy? Even if Diggs wants out, a trade doesn’t make a ton of football sense for Minnesota. Diggs has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and is a perfect match with Adam Thielen’s for a 1-2 punch in the passing game. Sure, seventh-round pick Olabisi Johnson had an encouraging rookie season (31 catches, 294 yards, three TDs) but not enough to instill confidence that he can take over as Cousins’ second option in the passing game. The money doesn’t make sense, either. Diggs is owed $14.5 million in 2020. If he’s traded before June 1, that would result in a $9 million cap hit, meaning the Vikings would save just $5.5 million in space. Trading away a star to clear $5.5 million on the books isn’t worth it.