Rick Spielman would rather guzzle vinegar than share his strategy on personnel or business matters in a public forum. The Vikings general manager handles deliberations as state secret.
Past decisions often provide an indication of future moves, though. Re-signing Sheldon Richardson and reworking Adam Thielen’s existing contract this offseason seem like natural starting points.
The Vikings have made a habit of locking up their in-house stars with top-dollar extensions in recent years. The organization has become a model in pro sports in that regards. Draft, develop, reward.
The team has handed out more big checks than Publishers Clearing House in constructing a top-heavy roster built to win now. A 24-17 victory over the Packers on Sunday brought another prime-time reminder that the organization isn’t done writing big checks.
Thielen and Richardson delivered monster performances, providing more proof that they should be in line for hefty paydays.
Rob Brzezinski, the team’s salary cap magician, can expect another challenging offseason trying make the numbers fit in a complex financial puzzle.
Thielen leads the NFL in catches (93), ranks second in receiving yards (1,138) and is tied for fifth in touchdown catches (eight). His catch total ranks as third-highest in league history through 11 games.
No NFL wide receiver this season has performed at a higher level than Thielen, who has thrust himself squarely into the “best receiver in the league” conversation.
In terms of average salary, he ranks 49th among all wide receivers, according to the contract website Over The Cap, making his $4.8 million salary one of the league’s best bargains relative to production.
Thielen’s historic production has triggered different escalators in his contract, boosting the value to $5.85 million next season.
The Vikings likely will bring his contract more in line with the NFL’s top receivers, especially after they rewarded Stefon Diggs with a five-year, $72 million contract in training camp.
Per Over The Cap, 22 receivers earn an average salary of at least $10 million. Thielen’s three-year, $17 million extension made sense when he signed it in March 2017. He received financial security and the team maintained flexibility in waiting to see if his career continued to ascend.
That question has been answered in a resounding way.
Not surprisingly, Thielen hasn’t complained once. Or demanded anything. He cheered when Diggs signed his massive deal and deflected questions about his own contract with team-first attitude.
“When I signed my contract before last season, that’s why I did it — because I didn’t want to have to worry about money,” Thielen said in August. “I didn’t have to want to worry about my contract. I wanted to just go out and play football.”
Richardson has proved himself to the organization by providing the kind of interior pass rush that Mike Zimmer covets from his three-technique tackle. Richardson sacked Aaron Rodgers twice on Sunday and has complemented the line’s heralded edge rushers by collapsing the pocket up the gut.
The Vikings signed Richardson to a one-year, $8 million contract last March. Essentially a prove-it deal before deciding whether to invest in him long term.
Richardson is proving it.
“It’s a blue-collar organization,” Richardson said Monday. “One of the main reasons why I like the organization is nobody is a prized possession here. No politics. They don’t play their draft picks sometimes. You can pay a guy a lot of money, [but] he won’t play if he’s not up to par.”
Signing all of their priorities will be tricky and probably will require tough decisions. One bit of relief: Former defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd’s decision to withdraw his grievance against the Vikings over his medical care freed up about $4 million in cap space next season.
That gives the Vikings more room to maneuver, and Brzezinski’s reputation is that of a shrewd and creative negotiator.
The organization’s model is to reward players who are in their prime and performing at peak level. Continuing that trend with Thielen and Richardson would be smart business.