The Vikings’ new deal with Adam Thielen became official on Monday, when the receiver signed the four-year, $64 million extension on the first day of the team’s offseason workouts. Now that we have the full details of the deal, there’s plenty to unpack, so we’ll highlight some of the main topics in bullet-point form:
- Thielen’s deal includes only $14.1 million in full guarantees, but that’s not much different than what Stefon Diggs got: A number of you expressed some consternation on Monday over why Thielen signed a deal that locks him up through 2024 in exchange for just one year’s worth of full guarantees. And it’s true he’s not assured of seeing a dime from the deal beyond this year; only his $9 million signing bonus, $4.3 million roster bonus and $805,000 base salary are guaranteed as of now.But the Vikings’ m.o. with their recent contracts has been to place a series of gates on guarantees, offering injury protection for a future base salary at the time of the contract’s completion, while requiring players to be on the roster by the third day of a given league year to fully realize the guarantees. Diggs, who is three years younger than Thielen, got $40.007 million guaranteed; only $16.907 of it was fully guaranteed at signing. The Vikings’ deals for Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr have all included the same structure, and we saw the Vikings use it to their advantage in Everson Griffen’s deal last month, when they extracted concessions from the defensive end minutes before his base salary would’ve been guaranteed for 2019. Essentially, if you’re doing a deal with the Vikings these days, you’re not going to get around such a structure without a whole lot of leverage — like, say, the kind enjoyed by a starting quarterback when he hits unrestricted free agency after two years on the franchise tag.
- It’s entirely possible Thielen’s deal will be obsolete in a couple years. But that’s not the whole point: The wide receiver’s four-year extension averages $16 million a year, tying him with Sammy Watkins for the sixth-highest figure in the league. Over the course of the entire six-year deal, Thielen averages $13.05 million a year, which puts him 13th among current receivers with players like Michael Thomas and Amari Cooper potentially in line to pass him in the near future. That line of thinking is enough to make one wonder why Thielen didn’t wait another year, increase his leverage with another big season and do a larger deal in 2020.The other perspective would be this: Thielen turns 29 in June, coming off a season where he gutted his way through a nagging back injury to play all 16 games and post the Vikings’ best receiving numbers since Randy Moss. He’s heading into another season with a new offensive coordinator and a scheme reworked under a head coach that’s made no secret of his desire to run the ball more often. And to this point, he’d earned just under $15 million for his career; enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life, to be sure, and more than he likely thought he’d earn during his NFL career, but still well below his earning potential given his recent production. It’s possible Thielen’s leverage was never going to be stronger than it was now, days before the possibility he would skip the start of the Vikings’ offseason workout program in protest. Say he’d waited to do a deal next year, only to miss a game or two and catch something like 65 passes for 820 yards and five touchdowns in 2019. With his 30th birthday on the horizon and the chance to earn another $2.1 million in incentives gone by, would that have made sense? Thielen’s approach might have leaned a bit on the conservative side, but it’s probably also still informed by the fact he didn’t become a starter until age 26 after toiling on the practice squad, and became a breakout star while playing on a deal he signed before restricted free agency. His new deal keeps him in his home state, at a price that didn’t cripple the salary cap picture for a team very much in win-now mode. If Thielen sought to be rewarded for his play — two years before free agency — and get back to work instead of going through a potentially rancorous negotiation, he got his wish.
- The Vikings now have the NFL’s third-most expensive receiving duo — and some salary cap work still to do: Only two team is paying its top two receivers more, on an average basis, than the Vikings are paying Thielen and Diggs: The Browns, who have Odell Beckham on a deal averaging $18 million a season and Jarvis Landry averaging $15.1 million, and the Raiders, who are giving Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams a combined $27.808 million a year (a shade above Thielen and Diggs’ $27.7 million average over the life of their deals). And while sources said talks on a Thielen deal began with the idea of lowering his 2019 cap number, a late shift in contract talks meant the number essentially stayed flat, going from $8.1 million to $8.105 million. That’s still a relative bargain for the Vikings, but it didn’t provide them the cap relief they still need.The team had just over $2 million in cap space as of Monday, before accounting for Sean Mannion’s and Jordan Taylor’s deals. That means the Vikings are likely a shade below $2 million, and still need to make a move or two to clear cap space before signing their draft class. The team is operating in a way that suggests it has a plan to do so, whether by trading a veteran like Trae Waynes or restructuring another veteran contract to clear space. General manager Rick Spielman figures to get asked about the Vikings’ cap picture at his pre-draft press conference next week, though a bet on him divulging much wouldn’t be wise.Thielen’s annual cap numbers are as follows:
2019: $8.105 million
2020: $12.8 million
2021: $13.5 million
2022: $14.445 million
2023: $15.45 million
2024: $16 million
A couple notes here: While Thielen’s 2019 figure rises by just $5,000, his 2020 figure potentially didn’t change much, either. He was already scheduled to be on the cap for $10.5 million next year, with the potential to boost the number by another $2.1 million if he hit his aforementioned incentives and escalators. Another big season in 2019, in other words, could have pushed Thielen’s 2020 number to $12.6 million. The Vikings, essentially, presumed such a season now and took the guesswork out of things.
The team’s 2020 cap situation figures to remain tight, however, with more than $192 million in liabilities already on its books. Assuming a $200 million cap, the Vikings would have less than $8 million in space (before any carryovers from 2019), meaning they’d have to make some moves to buy themselves any leeway for free agency again. Griffen’s deal voids if he posts six sacks or plays more than 57 percent of the Vikings’ snaps in 2019, and lineman Riley Reiff (who has a $13.2 million cap hit in 2020) could be another candidate for a restructure. Cousins, who carries a $31 million cap hit in 2020, will be in the final year of his deal, meaning the Vikings could always adjust his cap number next season if they were to pursue a second contract with the quarterback after this year.