Many media outlets are touting the Vikings as a possible Super Bowl contender this season, coming off their 2015 NFC North title. But looking forward, this might be the year the Vikings will have to do it because they will have the most key free agents coming available at the end of the season that I can remember. Rob Brzezinski, the team’s executive vice president, might have the biggest challenge of his 18-year career here signing players.
As their roster stands now, the Vikings have salary cap room of $6.5 million. Luckily, the NFL raised the cap about $12 million to $155 million this season, and it might go up next year as well.
Still, after this season 17 Vikings will become unrestricted free agents. And one of their most important decisions is regarding a player under contract for next year:
Their best player on offense, Adrian Peterson, is being paid $12 million this year on a renegotiated contract. He is due $18 million for the 2017 season, a deal that becomes fully guaranteed in March. Peterson is the highest-paid running back in the league, and it’s not close. The next highest is Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart at $9.5 million, followed by Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin at $8 million.
It will be hard for the Vikings to justify paying nearly double the next highest-paid back in the league, even if Peterson puts up MVP-caliber numbers again.
Also worth noting about Peterson: There are some 90 players working off and on at Winter Park over the offseason. He isn’t one of them, but that’s typical of what he’s done every offseason. Coaches are happy with him because they know he works hard at home in Texas. The other players don’t seem to resent that, either.
Defensive backs key
It’s not just the Peterson situation that will be a big decision for the Vikings front office next offseason.
As it stands now, their No. 1 free agent at the end of this season is safety Harrison Smith, who might be the best at his position in the league and is being paid $5.3 million in 2016. Compare that to other outstanding safeties such as Seattle’s Earl Thomas, who in 2014 received a four-year, $40 million contract with $25.7 million guaranteed, or New England’s Devin McCourty, who last year signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with $28.5 million guaranteed. The Vikings will have to come close to matching those figures because there will be a big market for Smith, who when healthy might be irreplaceable.
There are other key veterans in the secondary the Vikings might want to keep. Captain Munnerlyn is making $4.6 million this year and certainly will be looking for a raise.
Terence Newman, who will be 38 this season, will be paid $2.5 million. Both cornerbacks were brought in by coach Mike Zimmer because of their experience to help out a young secondary, but the Vikings will need to decide if they want to keep them beyond this season.
Then you have free safety Michael Griffin, whom the Vikings brought in to potentially play alongside Smith. He’s being paid $2.5 million this year and certainly will be looking for more money and maybe a long-term deal if he has a good season.
Offensive line depth
Everyone knows the Vikings have brought in a ton of offensive linemen this offseason. But after this season, left tackle Matt Kalil, right tackle Phil Loadholt and center Joe Berger can become free agents.
Kalil is making $11.1 million in the final year of his rookie contract. Loadholt will make $4 million and Berger, who filled in for the injured John Sullivan last season, $1.4 million.
You also have Andre Smith, another free agent the Vikings brought in. He will make $3.5 million this year, but he will be another player looking for more money if he plays well.
You also have two free-agent running backs that have been instrumental in the run-blocking game in Matt Asiata and Zach Line. Asiata is making just $840,000 this season while Line is making $1.7 million.
The Vikings already have decided not to pick up the 2017 option on Cordarrelle Patterson for $7.9 million, and certainly will not come close to paying him that if he wants to come back after this season, not unless he contributes as a wide receiver as well as a kick returner.
Linebacker Chad Greenway most likely will be playing his final season. He is due to make $2.75 million.
The other remaining free agents are Audie Cole, Kenrick Ellis, Travis Lewis, Kevin McDermott and Justin Trattou, and all are making less than $1 million this season.
Obviously, as with every NFL season, not every player on a team in May is still with it in September, but as it stands now, the Vikings will have many decisions to make next offseason.
Brown in playoffs
Ted Brown was known for being a great running back for the Vikings, one of the best they ever had. His son J.T. Brown took up hockey, leading Minnesota Duluth to the 2011 NCAA title, and now is playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals.
Brown suffered an upper-body injury in the first round of the playoffs against Detroit. He returned to the Lightning last Friday for the conference finals opener vs. Pittsburgh, and he had an assist in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 2 on Monday.
• The Howard Pulley basketball team with Apple Valley’s Tre Jones and Gary Trent Jr. is 29-0 this summer and 11-0 in the Nike EYBL Summer circuit, the top circuit in the nation. But last weekend in Hampton, Va., Jones broke his right thumb and will be out four to six weeks. Trent will be out for two weeks because of a quadriceps injury, and D.J. Hunter of Champlin Park will be out six weeks due to a broken foot. Minneapolis North’s Isaac Johnson broke his nose during the tournament, but he isn’t going to miss any playing time.
• Princeton won the Ivy League baseball championship by beating Yale twice on Sunday, putting the Tigers into the NCAA tournament. There were three Minnesotans on the squad and all played key roles. Cameron Mingo from Eden Prairie pitched a complete game in a 2-1 victory in Game 2. Danny Baer of St. Thomas Academy scored the winning run in that game on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. And Jesper Horsted from Roseville led the team with a .326 batting average this year.
• Charlie Venable played on five state lacrosse championship teams at Eden Prairie. Now playing football at St. Thomas, he was also on the Tommies club lacrosse team that won the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association Division II national championship.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org