This week, when the Vikings’ brain trust arrives in Indianapolis for the league’s annual scouting combine, it will do so with a different set of financial constraints than it has experienced in most recent seasons.
The combine — which doubles as the league’s first substantive look at the upcoming draft class and the unofficial kickoff of free agency — has more often than not seen the Vikings pursuing an ambitious agenda in recent years. In 2013, general manager Rick Spielman publicly deflected questions about trading Percy Harvin; the Vikings dealt him to Seattle weeks later, before missing out on Mike Wallace and eventually signing Greg Jennings. In 2014, the Vikings laid the groundwork for a defensive overhaul that began with signing nose tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, while giving pass rusher Everson Griffen a lucrative new deal. Offensive line overhauls dominated the team’s agenda in 2016 and 2017, and last year, the Vikings’ quarterback quandary was the talk of the week in Indianapolis, as the team eventually bid farewell to three QBs — Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford — before signing Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million contract.
The Cousins contract, among the Vikings’ other lucrative deals, means the team’s agenda at this year’s combine will have to be managed against a tighter cap picture. According to NFLPA salary data, the Vikings are projected to have just $6.657 million in cap space to start the 2019 league year, putting them near the bottom of the league. With another set of moves looming on the offensive line, the Vikings could face some hard decisions with veterans in an effort to clear cap space.
Here, then, is a look at some of the ways the Vikings could clear cap space as they try to free up room for an offseason that might include another round of offensive line moves.
Releasing veterans: There’s been chatter in league circles for months about the future of Griffen, who turned 31 in December and carries an $11.743 million cap number for 2019. He could be on his way out if the Vikings can’t find a trade partner for him, or if they can’t reach a restructured deal for the pass rusher. Safety Andrew Sendejo (31) has a $5.5 million team option; letting him go could clear some cap space quickly. Guard Mike Remmers could be released to recoup $4.55 million in cap space, particularly if the Vikings are contemplating the idea of trying Riley Reiff at guard (as the Star Tribune reported earlier this month).
A deal for Thielen? Wide receiver Adam Thielen, who ranks fourth in the NFL in receptions and sixth in yards over the past two seasons, has outplayed a deal that has him ranked 49th at his position in terms of average annual salary. While Thielen still has two years left on the contract he signed in 2017, the Vikings could decide to reward arguably their most popular player in a way that actually reduces their salary cap burden for 2019; Thielen has a $8.1 million cap figure for 2019, and if the Vikings added two or three years to his deal, they could spread out a lucrative signing bonus over several seasons, putting cash in his pocket now while giving him a smaller base salary in the early years of the deal.
Contract restructures: Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who enters the final year of his deal with a $7.625 million cap number, could be facing a contract reduction if he wants to finish his deal in Minnesota. If the Vikings are thinking seriously about moving Reiff, they could pursue a restructured deal with the 30-year-old, though their leverage might be limited if they deem the free agent market too expensive to pursue a left tackle and they’re not confident about the immediate efficacy younger options like second-year man Brian O’Neill or a draft pick.
Trading Rhodes: The idea of dealing cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who turns 29 this year and is coming off a season filled with nagging injuries, has gained popularity online this offseason, though it remains to be seen if the Vikings would consider parting with a player who’s been one of the better shutdown corners in the league when he’s fully healthy. Still, with Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander heading into contract years, Mike Hughes bidding to return from a torn ACL and undrafted free agent Holton Hill coming off a promising rookie season, the Vikings have enough depth at cornerback to consider their options. Decisions on veteran players tend to get more complicated when teams are tight on cap space, and if the Vikings find a team that’s willing to part with a decent draft pick while taking on Rhodes’ $10.4 million base salary — which becomes guaranteed on March 15 — they could think about a move.