Vikings Vice President Rob Brzezinski is renowned as a salary cap "wizard.''
He should be known as Rick Spielman's enabler. A mistake mitigator. A cleaner.
A capologist like Brzezinski is like a heart surgeon. If you need one, you want the best, but it's better not to need one.
The Vikings' release of tight end Kyle Rudolph last week spurred a number of feel-good stories about his character. They're accurate. He's a quality human, teammate, philanthropist and player.
In football terms, the more meaningful aspect of his release is the flawed thinking that led to his last contract.
Rudolph was a high draft pick who played well, proved durable and became a part of the team's "culture." In June 2019, Spielman signed him to a four-year contract worth $36 million.
By releasing him last week, the Vikings cleared about $5 million against the 2021 salary cap but will carry a $4.35M dead cap hit (money that will count against the salary cap even though the player is gone).
So they're paying Rudolph not to play for them. Which is an admission of a mistake: In this case, overvaluing your own players because of your history with them, or because you think you're on the verge of a championship.
If the Vikings have excelled at one thing in the era of General Manager Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer, it's getting people paid. Which makes their high-water mark — the 2017 NFC title game appearance in 2017 with a backup quarterback and backup running back — seem odd, because they chose not to pay either Case Keenum or Jerick McKinnon.
When the Vikings signed Rudolph in 2019, he was three years past his high-water mark as a receiver. Only once did he surpass 634 receiving yards in a season — when he had 840 in 2016. By the summer of 2019, Rudolph had settled into his new role — occasional receiver and red-zone target and decent but hardly dominant blocker.
The Vikings overvalued him, perhaps out of sentiment. He had 634 receiving yards in 2018. After he signed the deal, he totaled 367 and 334 yards receiving in 2019 and 2020. Rudolph being a quality human being is not equivalent to him being worthy of his salary, or his dead cap hit.
Before signing Rudolph in the summer of 2019, the Vikings, who seemed prepared to lose linebacker Anthony Barr to the New York Jets in free agency, caved in and brought him back on a five-year deal worth $67.5 million.
He's scheduled to make $12.4 million in 2021 and would incur a $7.8 million dead cap hit if released.
Barr is another example of a player being paid because of where the Vikings drafted him and what they think of him rather than what his actual current value is.
Barr brings comfort to Zimmer because he can run the defense, and he's athletic and versatile. But he doesn't make the impact plays that would justify a large salary.
The Vikings invested so heavily in quarterback Kirk Cousins that they couldn't afford to trade him unless they were like the Philadelphia Eagles and realized that they couldn't afford to have their former franchise quarterback (Carson Wentz in their case) in the building anymore. Cousins' dead-cap hit for 2021 would be $41 million.
The Vikings invested heavily in receiver Stefon Diggs, then changed the offense and were forced to trade him. That they salvaged a bad situation by making a good deal and drafting Justin Jefferson does not mean they made a good decision investing in a star receiver, then giving him reason to want to leave.
They also signed Dalvin Cook to a five-year, $63 million contract, locking them into a run-first offense and meaning they are one injury away from easily avoided regret.
All of these moves have one thing in common: a belief among the Vikings' decision-makers that they were close to winning a championship and couldn't afford to let one of their core players leave.
That mind-set proved to be more hopeful than rational.