The Vikings front office, headed by General Manager Rick Spielman with the help of assistant GM George Paton, has been applauded for its ability to make smart draft picks and build depth by re-signing those draft picks before they hit free agency.
But there has been a major change in the Vikings’ spending habits the past two seasons as it becomes clearer that they view this window as their chance to win a Super Bowl, and the front office and team ownership are willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
In the past two seasons, the Vikings have signed $209 million worth in total contracts to 15 unrestricted free agents, according to Spotrac.com.
Compare that to the $267 million in contracts they signed 52 unrestricted free agents from 2011 to 2016, and you can see how focused they have become not just on giving out money but on giving it out in big numbers to key players.
The average contract for an unrestricted signing the past two seasons has been about $13.9 million per player, compared to about $5 million per player from 2011 to 2016.
Obviously, a lot of that recent money is in quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose three-year, $84 million contract is fully guaranteed. Other players from outside the organization to sign with the Vikings the past two years include Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers, Latavius Murray and Sheldon Richardson.
The Vikings finished their second of three rounds of organized team activities this past week at their new Eagan facility, and Spielman said that he knows despite whatever additions they have made, the team is starting from scratch.
“As coach Zim [Mike Zimmer] said, ‘Everyone is 0-0 right now.’ But we’re excited about some of the young talent we have, excited about some of the acquisitions we were able to make in free agency,” Spielman said. “Now it’s just a matter of getting out there and trying to bring this team together.”
Cousins everything and more
Cousins is the biggest addition of Spielman’s tenure and the biggest free agent signing in team history. Spielman described his early impressions of the quarterback.
“I’d say he’s probably more than we expected, not only what he’s doing on the field and how accurate of a thrower he is, but what a leader he is becoming with this team and how guys are gravitating towards him,” Spielman said. “We’re very excited about where he is at this point.
“They’re just putting in parts of the playbook right now. [Offensive coordinator John] DeFilippo and Coach Zimmer and the rest of the offensive staff are putting in a lot from a playbook standpoint, and then once we figure out what not only him but our offense does well and doesn’t do well, then they’ll start honing in to make sure to put him in the best situation to make sure he has the best chance for success.”
Free agents remain
Spielman said that while Stefon Diggs, Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter haven’t been signed to extensions, he said there’s still a good chance those extensions will get done closer to training camp.
“We’ve continued to talk with their agents and that process will probably continue through the summer,” Spielman said. “We have been able in the past to get some of these contracts done right around training camp. … So we’ll continue to work hard to try and see if we can get some of these guys under contract and extended.”
In addition to the big-name free agents to join this offseason such as Cousins and Richardson, Spielman said the team focused on college free agents as well. The Vikings have had much success in signing undrafted players in the past.
“We really tried to be more aggressive in college free agency after the draft and tried to hone in on guys that we have spent time with, a couple of those guys actually came here … as part of the recruiting process,” he said. “I think by continuing to add young talented guys and continuing to add as much competition as you can, it makes everybody rise to the occasion. Then our coaches do such a great job developing these guys, if they have the athletic traits to develop, that’s why we’ve been more aggressive and have had some success.”
Fleck’s NFL pedigree
If you want an idea of why P.J. Fleck says the Gophers need to continue to build their NFL talent pool, consider this: Western Michigan, Fleck’s former school, a program in the Mid-American Conference and one of five Division I football programs in the state of Michigan, has 14 players currently in the NFL, all of whom have come into the league since 2016.
The Gophers, the lone D-I program in the state, have only 12.
If you compare the Gophers to their main rivals in the Big Ten, the numbers are even more skewed, with Wisconsin having 36 players on an NFL roster this season and Iowa having 33.
• Ken Mauer, the NBA official and a cousin of Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, was blamed by many Cavaliers fans for Cleveland’s loss in Game 1 of the NBA Finals to the Warriors on Thursday because of the replay reversal of a charge call on Kevin Durant to a block on LeBron James. This is Mauer’s 13th NBA Finals.
• P.J. Fleck in a recent conversation about the Gophers quarterback situation may have, by omission, given an insight into why junior college quarterback Vic Viramontes left the program Saturday: “Tanner Morgan, he has gotten so much better. He’s incredibly, smart, intelligent, makes incisive decisions, tremendous leadership. But I’ll say this about Zach Anixstad, as well, he has come on strong. He’s only been here three months and it looks like he has been three years already.”
• Baseball America released an updated top 100 prospects and shortstop Royce Lewis was ranked at No. 16 overall after starting at No. 21. He was the only Twins prospect on the list.
• Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has a quarterback rating of 94.1 on third down passes over the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus, that’s the 10th-best mark in the NFL.
• ESPN has a Football Power Index that projects win totals. It has the Vikings at 9.4 wins in 2018. That was the fifth-highest projection in the NFL, but it was still behind the Packers.
• Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he might wait until the opener to pick between veteran kicker Kai Forbath, who has made 47 of 53 field-goal attempts with the team, and fifth-round pick Daniel Carlson.
• The Gophers will get a lot of competition from Iowa for Hopkins 6-10 basketball standout Zeke Nnaji, who is getting a lot of notice. “I like [Iowa’s] style of play. Tyler Cook was a great post player and they threw it to him a lot, so I like how they play,” Nnaji told 247Sports.