2021 Vikings Built to Decide Path Forward for Organization

Photo: Howard Simmons - AP

Slick Rick Spielman, along with his right-hand man Rob Brzezinski, have had a brilliant 2021 offseason. After reworking his contract and thus appeasing Danielle Hunter on Monday, the Minnesota Vikings defense looks closer to a classic Mike Zimmer masterpiece than it does the disaster we witnessed last season.

The secondary’s been completely turned over. It’s now riddled with veteran depth and still supported by young talent like Cam Dantzler and Harrison Hand, who now have loads of early career experience. Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson and (likely) Sheldon Richardson make for a completely revamped front four that’ll sit in front of Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, who both missed significant time in 2020 as well.

Mike Zimmer has been gifted a brand new (and much improved) defense. But there’s a catch… kind of.

One shot…

Queue the 8 Mile soundtrack and get Eminem a bowl of his mom’s spaghetti because Mike Zimmer’s got one shot, one opportunity to show the Wilf’s that he deserves a new contract and the continuance of a Minnesota Vikings era. Zygi’s written a lot of checks this summer and he’s allowed Spielman to completely rebuild the purple and gold defense. But every move they’ve made has one thing in common. One year.

Everybody on the starting defense, from head coach Mike Zimmer on down, has just one real season remaining on their contracts. Remember, Danielle Hunter’s reworked deal was made to be re-done again next offseason. If he’s on the roster next June under the same contract, he get’s an $18 million roster bonus.

In essence, every player on the Minnesota Vikings defense in 2021 is playing for their future. Take a look.

CB1Patrick Peterson$8MUFA
CB2Bashaud Breeland$2.7MUFA
CB3Mackensie Alexander$1MUFA
SXavier Woods$1.7MUFA
SHarrison Smith$10.3MUFA
LBAnthony Barr$6.1MUFA
LBEric Kendricks$12.5M$13.5M*$11.4M*
DTDalvin Tomlinson$6M$7.5M*
DTMichael Pierce$5M$10.5M*$11.4M*
DEDanielle Hunter$13.5M$36.9M*$15.9M*
*Vikings save significant money if cut before season (potential out for team – per Spotrac)

If Spielman and Co were to let all unrestricted free agents walk after the 2021 season, they’d lose their entire starting secondary and Anthony Barr. They could also save over $5 million by cutting or trading Michael Pierce, another $6 million by cutting or trading Dalvin Tomlinson and $8 million by cutting or trading Erik Kendricks (all according to Spotrac.com).

Offense contractually built for 2021 too

But it’s not just the defense that’s built, from a contract standpoint, for a one-year run. Over on offense, Adam Thielen’s contract is primed for a restructure after the 2021 season. But if the Vikings decide to hit the reset button instead, they’d save nearly $6 million by trading or cutting him. As of right now, even Brian O’Neill is even set to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

Kirk Cousins’ contract also balloons to $45 million dollars next year, the last on his current deal. The Vikings could avoid most of that with a trade to a team desperate for a quarterback. Or, should Kirk push the offense to the next level and lead the Vikings on a playoff run, another extension would likely be on the horizon instead.

Still Plenty of Youth too

Sure, the Vikings could sell of most of its roster and hit the reset button at the end of the 2021, if needed. But if the season goes as planned, this is a team that still has plenty of youth for a bright future. Kirk Cousins will turn 33 years old right before the season starts. That’s still considered young in this age of quarterbacks, especially for a guy who doesn’t rely on mobility as a big part of his skill set.

Many of the players listed above would absolutely still consider themselves in the prime of their careers. Even with all of the veteran additions on defense, the Vikings still have just four starters on offense + defense who are 30 or older — Cousins (33), H. Smith (32), Thielen (31) and P. Peterson (31).

Dalvin Cook (25), Danielle Hunter (27), Michael Pierce (28). Dalvin Tomlinson (27) and Brian O’Neill (25) are all early in their primes and that’s before we jump into the youngsters like Justin Jefferson (22), Cam Dantzler (23) and Irv Smith Jr (22), who are all just getting started.

On the brink

The Minnesota Vikings are a franchise in limbo. But, they’re ready for it. Rick Spielman and the Wilf’s have a lot of options as they enter the 2021 season. They were able to build a roster that looks ready for a playoff run immediately, while not exposing the organization to any long-term liabilities.

They could hit the reset button after 2021, should the season go awry, but they’re also a few short extensions away from an extension on the Mike Zimmer + Kirk Cousins era, if everything goes well.

Now, we’ll see what the football gods have in store.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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