Vikings officials get a lot of praise for the way the organization is run. The owners, coaches and players are often considered parts of a first-class team, and their practice and game facilities are some of the best in the NFL.
But there’s no doubt one of the most important roles is handled by Rob Brzezinski, the executive vice president of football operations. He is often tasked with figuring out how to not only sign key free agents such as quarterback Kirk Cousins, as he did in March of 2018, but also to find ways to keep talented players General Manager Rick Spielman drafts and Mike Zimmer and his assistants develop.
That was especially apparent in the tremendous amount of work that went into signing tight end Kyle Rudolph on Tuesday to a four-year extension that will keep the former first round draft pick here through 2023 and is fully guaranteed through the 2020 season.
Rudolph, who was set to make $7.625 million this season, will instead make a fully guaranteed $9.25 million.
The Vikings had $207.8 million allotted to 90 players, including Rudolph’s original deal, which only made the negotiation trickier.
“Every negotiation is unique and challenging, and we try to take care of our players and keep as many of our players as we can,” Brzezinski said. “But it is a challenge making everything fit within the economics of our system.”
The lack of salary cap flexibility meant that Rudolph’s name came up in trade rumors for weeks. With teams such as the Patriots in desperate need of a quality tight end, there was good reason to think Rudolph might not be back.
But the Vikings front office and Rudolph said all along that they believed a deal could be brokered. Both sides were insistent in saying their final goal was to ensure Rudolph remained with Minnesota.
As Rudolph enters his ninth season with the Vikings, he is undoubtedly one of the best tight ends in the league. He has started in every game for the past four seasons, and in that time he ranks third among tight ends in receptions (253) and touchdowns (24) and eighth in yards (2,501).
Agent reps Vikings
So much of the modern NFL is dictated by the relationships between front offices and player agents.
Brzezinski said when it came to Rudolph’s negotiations, one of the big pluses was that Rudolph’s agency, Athletes First, has a long history of working with the Vikings.
“We have done a lot of deals together,” Brzezinski said. “Athletes First, [president] Brian Murphy, [agent] Camron Hahn, they’re top-notch agents. Yeah, we have a good relationship.”
Who else on the Vikings do they represent?
“They have [defensive end] Everson [Griffen], [linebacker Anthony] Barr, obviously Rudy, [cornerback] Trae Waynes, [safety] Harrison Smith. I am sure there are others I can’t remember off the top of my head,” Brzezinski said.
Brzezinski said one of the big positives in signing Rudolph is the Vikings can now focus on the overall task of becoming a Super Bowl contender, a year after a disappointing 8-7-1 season ended with the club missing the playoffs.
“This time of the year, where we are now, we’re worried about the 2019 season,” he said. “Our focus is on the field and trying to be successful.”
But the financial challenges will continue to come for the Vikings front office. There won’t be any easy years ahead for a team that wants to compete at a high level every season.
According to Spotrac.com, the Vikings already have $210 million allocated to 64 players next season, a payroll already exceeding last year’s $207.8 million. And that’s before factoring in Rudolph’s extension.
Among offensive players in 2020, Cousins will see a pay increase to $31 million from $29 million. Wide receiver Adam Thielen’s contract will increase by more than $4 million to $12.8 million. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs will go up $2 million to $14.5 million. Tackle Riley Reiff will earn an extra $1.5 million to $13.2 million.
On defense in 2020, the biggest jump in salary will belong to Griffen, who will go from $7.9 million to $13.9 million. Barr will jump from $5.6 million to $12.7 million and linebacker Eric Kendricks will earn $10.03 million, up from $4.85 million. Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen will increase from $2.3 million to $5.03 million.
“We have an expensive roster and so, we’re always looking to the future,” Brzezinski said.
The real headaches will come into play when you consider those salary cap increases don’t even factor in the unrestricted free agency of 16 players.
“We have a number of them,” Brzezinski said. “Trae Waynes is probably the biggest of them. I can’t remember off the top of my head, but we have a number of them and Trae Waynes is probably the most prominent.”
Yes, it will be another gigantic balancing act for the Vikings in the next few years to reshape their roster while trying to keep the core members of the team intact. Luckily, in Brzezinski, they have the right person taking on that challenge.
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