Barnwell's 5 off-season moves for each team …
Projected 2020 cap space: -$12.3 million
1. Create some cap space. Just in case you missed that minus symbol above, the Vikings are in a tight cap squeeze. While they aren't going to end up in the sort of apocalyptic cut spree that teams like the Ravens and Titans dealt with 15 years ago, general manager Rick Spielman & Co. have some work to do over the next few weeks.
Minnesota would instantly get under the cap if Everson Griffen exercises his right to opt out of his deal, which would free up $13 million in room. It would also deprive the Vikings of a productive defender, as he racked up eight sacks and 24 knockdowns during the regular season and was excellent during the two-game playoff run. Griffen has said he wants to stay with the team, and the Vikings probably aren't ready to stick Ifeadi Odenigbo into the starting lineup. My guess is that the two sides agree to terms on a modified contract and Griffen stays.
The next move would be to cut cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who has struggled mightily over the past two seasons and was moved in and out of the lineup at times in 2019. The Vikings will create $8.1 million in cap space by cutting the 2013 first-round pick, which has sadly become an inevitability. Rhodes could come back on a much smaller deal, but a split probably makes sense for both sides at this point.
Minnesota typically doesn't like to restructure deals to create cap space, but unless it wants to cut someone like Linval Joseph (who would free up $10.4 million in room) or Kyle Rudolph ($3.7 million) or trade Stefon Diggs ($5.5 million), it might not have a choice if it wants to create meaningful cap space. There's one player whose cap hit could fall ...
2. Work on a Kirk Cousins extension. I'm going to save a lengthier Cousins debate for another day. Briefly, in the playoffs, he was good enough to beat Drew Brees and the Saints at home and was horribly overmatched against the 49ers' pass rush in a game in which I don't think any quarterback would have played well. The Vikings have gotten about what they should have expected when they signed Cousins to a three-year, $84 million deal in 2018.
You might remember that he signed a deal that was fully guaranteed at the time of signing. The Vikings structured the deal with a $3 million signing bonus and huge base salaries of $22.5 million, $27.5 million and $29.5 million. There wasn't any reason to hide salary at the end of the deal because it was all guaranteed anyway, but it's not the easiest contract structure for cap purposes. Cousins has the third-largest cap hit in all of football at $31 million.
If the Vikings want to negotiate a new deal with him, I'm not sure whether he would attempt or expect to get a second fully guaranteed deal. Regardless of what he wants, they should be able to use the bonus structure to reduce his cap hit for 2020. Let's say Cousins wants to sign a three-year, $100 million extension, which would mean the Vikings would have to pay a total of $129.5 million to him over the next four years. They could give him a $40 million signing bonus and spread the money out this way while creating much-needed cap space now:
How Cousins' Contract Could Look
While I brought up the idea of Cousins potentially heading somewhere via trade in my offseason dominoes piece, he has a full no-trade clause and would need to approve any deal. If the Vikings want to reduce his cap hold, it will almost surely have to be via an extension.
3. Replenish the secondary. In addition to the pending release of Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are both free agents. Anthony Harris, who impressed in his first year as a starting safety, is also a free agent. Those four players combined for 3,004 defensive snaps last season. The Vikings have young corners Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd, star safety Harrison Smith, and virtually nothing of note behind them.
I don't think the Vikings will keep Waynes or Alexander. Harris seems more plausible, but they might not want to invest significant money in a second safety given their roster issues elsewhere. Mike Zimmer has a long track record of working with teams who use first-round picks at cornerback, which means the team could take a corner with the 25th overall pick in April's draft.
Zimmer coaxed six seasons out of veteran corner Terence Newman when most thought he was toast after his time in Dallas, and the Vikings could go after at least one reclamation project at the position this offseason. In addition to free agents like Aqib Talib and Johnathan Joseph, we're likely to see players like Josh Norman and Trumaine Johnson become cap casualties. Don't be surprised if one of those guys goes to training camp in Minnesota.
4. Re-sign Dan Bailey. After the Blair Walsh fiasco and a year and a half with Kai Forbath, the Vikings were delighted to sign Bailey after the longtime Cowboys kicker was cut by Dallas in camp. He promptly hit 75% of his field goals in 2018. When he struggled in training camp last summer, the Vikings traded a fifth-round pick to the Ravens for Kaare Vedvik, only to cut Vedvik after he missed three kicks in the preseason.
Bailey promptly went 27-of-29 on field goal tries, and while he missed four of his 44 extra points, he was one of the better kickers in football on scoring plays. Past performance isn't indicative of future results for kickers, as the Vikings know very well, but there's nobody available who is a clear upgrade on Bailey.
5. Don't re-sign Dalvin Cook to a huge extension. I covered this a bit in my column on running back contracts, but as talented as Cook is, he profiles as a dangerous candidate for a second contract. He has a track record of injuries and only really broke out when he was dropped into a Gary Kubiak/Kyle Shanahan offense, which has a long track record of making just about every back it touches look like superstars.
Minnesota's cap situation makes this an even easier decision. The best thing for the team is to let Cook play out the final year of his rookie deal, move on and turn the job over to Alexander Mattison. Teams typically ignore history, assume their guy is the exception and pay their standout back before regretting it shortly thereafter. The Vikings are in such a tight cap bind that they might be forced to listen to history.
< Message edited by SoMnFan -- 2/13/2020 8:42:07 AM >
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