What does $51.25 million buy Harrison Smith? More motivation, apparently.
The Vikings on Monday made Smith the NFL’s highest-paid safety. Now he is putting pressure on himself to make them look good for doing it, just like he made sure to reward them for drafting him back in 2012.
“Really, this, to me, is motivating,” the safety said after Tuesday’s organized team activity at Winter Park. “[General Manager] Rick [Spielman] took me at the end of the first round in 2012, and at the time, that might have been a bit of a reach [based on] what people thought. … I always wanted to make him right, and I think I’ll look at this the same way going forward.”
Smith, whose rookie contract was set to expire after the upcoming season, acknowledged that it was goal to become the NFL’s highest-paid safety. With an annual contract value of $10.25 million, Smith surpassed Seattle Seahawks star safety Earl Thomas, who makes $10 million per season.
In return, the Vikings will have their Pro Bowler under contract through 2021.
“You always want to be recognized at one of the top guys at your position. I think if you’re a competitor you always see yourself like that,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of mutual respect between myself and the organization.”
The Vikings in recent years have typically finalized extensions after players report to training camp. Smith said he wasn’t “actively pushing” for his deal to get done sooner, but he does think it’s a good thing it happened now.
“I definitely wanted that,” the 27-year-old said. “I’m happy that it’s done right now, and we can kind of knock this stuff out and move on to the game.”
The Vikings locked down one safety spot by signing Smith to that big extension. Now they must figure out what to do at the other one.
The competition at the strong safety spot will be wide open heading into training camp. Incumbent Andrew Sendejo and free-agent newcomer Michael Griffin are the front-runners to start alongside Smith. But young veterans Antone Exum and Anthony Harris could have something to say about that, as could 2016 seventh-round draft pick Jayron Kearse.
“We’re trying to look at all the different guys,” coach Mike Zimmer said Tuesday. “Griffin is learning. I like some of the things that Kearse is doing. Exum is athletic. Anthony Harris very seldom makes mistakes. Sendejo is solid, like he usually is. So we’ll just have to keep going.”
Zimmer wants to see them practice in pads during training camp and actually hit somebody in preseason games before picking a strong safety. He waited until after the preseason to name a starter at that position in 2014 and 2015.
“The one thing I try not to do, especially in OTAs when we’re not in pads, is I try not to jump to some kind of conclusion about who should be the starter,” Zimmer said. “We’ll kind of let that play out in camp.”
Outside linebacker Anthony Barr sat out another OTA on Tuesday and has yet to practice during this third and final phase of the offseason program, but Zimmer again said he is not concerned about whatever injury with which Barr is dealing. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd also remains sidelined.
The other Vikings who were not practicing Tuesday were offensive linemen Alex Boone and Mike Harris, tight end Rhett Ellison, cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Mackensie Alexander, and outside linebacker Travis Lewis.
Running back Adrian Peterson was back on the field after sitting out the last OTA practice that was open to media, which was last Wednesday.
Munnerlyn had a great reason for being absent from the voluntary OTA. His fiancée gave birth to the couple’s third child, Champ Tyler Munnerlyn.
Munnerlyn sought out name suggestions from teammates before the birth of their second son. Peterson was the one who proposed Champ. And fellow defensive backs Smith and Sendejo came up with his middle name.