Minnesota Vikings Can Sign Cousins, Jefferson and Hunter Without Breaking Salary Cap Bank
We’ve heard a lot about how the Minnesota Vikings are ‘stuck’ this offseason, with several key players set for free agency. How do you improve a team that finished with just seven wins while having to account for the expiring contracts of Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter while having to pay Justin Jefferson? Can it be done?
The Vikings don’t have a ton of cap space to begin with either, ranking 15th in the NFL according to Over The Cap. Yet, a closer look at the overall foundation reveals a different story, one that should appeal to Vikings fans hoping to see their team bounce back in a big way in 2024. Here’s why the Vikings shouldn’t be concerned about their cap situation right now.
Veteran Restructures Can Create Minnesota Vikings Salary Cap Space
According to Over The Cap, the Vikings will enter the offseason with roughly $26.6 million in cap space. That’s not a lot in the modern era of football, especially with 27 players set for free agency. However, as we’ve seen in the past, Vikings cap specialist Rob Brzezinski is very good at managing the salary cap.
OTC suggests the Vikings have $21.5 million of ‘effective cap space’ or spendable money right now. However, some simple contract restructures (a maneuver made every offseason by just about every franchise) can easily carve out as much as $56.5 million.
In fact, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could go all out and create as much as $87 million in possible cap space. Obviously, that would be enough to sign anyone they wanted, a few times over, but it would also push the maximum amount of allowable money to future years.
|Possible Space (Max)
If Harrison Smith doesn’t retire, he’s expected to settle for a salary much lower than the $19 million currently scheduled to hit the books. A simple restructure for Harry, according to OTC, would come with $6.6M in cap savings.
Other restructures available to the Vikings front office, like Brian O’Neill and TJ Hockenson, don’t even require player permission to execute. Kwesi sends an email, and boom, $8.9 million saved for O’Neill, $7.1 million for Hockenson. And just like that, we’ve saved $22.6 million in cap space. See, this isn’t that hard.
We haven’t even addressed how Kirk Cousins’ will probably save them money in 2024 vs what they’d pay in dead cap if he leaves. Or the savings they could see in years one and two of a new JJ deal. Yes, you read that correctly. The Vikings will save against the cap once they can get Jefferson signed to his record setting new contract. So, let’s keep going.
Danielle Hunter’s Career Year Will Earn Him Big Paycheck, But Would He Leave Now?
Of all the players set to enter free agency, Danielle Hunter may receive the largest salary for the 2024 season. It’s not because he’s better or more valuable than Justin Jefferson. It’s simply because the Vikings have ‘kicked the can’ down the road for several years now, hoping he can prove his durability and effectiveness.
After a career-high 16.5 sack season, where Hunter played all 17 games for the second season in a row, it’s safe to say, there are no further questions about his play. Hunter is one of the best pass-rushers in football, and by appearances, he enjoys playing for the Vikings, and especially for defensive coordinator Brian Flores.
When it comes to free agency, expect Hunter to sign a contract that pays him north of $20 million per season, as Spotrac currently projects. That would rank seventh among outside linebackers, but if you don’t think Hunter is worth the going rate, then you must believe he’s easily replaceable.
But tell me this: who was the last Vikings to tally more than ten sacks in a single season? The answer is Hunter, he’s done it five times since 2016. Otherwise, it’s just Everson Griffen, recording 13 sacks in 2017. In other words, that type of production is very hard to replace.
Yet, the Vikings can structure Hunter’s contract any way they like, whether it’s a massive signing bonus to show Hunter their appreciation for his loyalty and drive to not only improve but return to top form. Or there’s another option, if he’s willing to backload his contract a bit to help compete right away. It’s all up to Hunter and what he prioritizes most. We’ll find out soon enough.
Get Creative with structure of Justin Jefferson’s Contract
There’s no question that when he signs his contract extension, Justin Jefferson will become the highest-paid non-QB in NFL history. He’s earned that. Many assume that paying Jefferson to such an expensive contract will cripple the Vikings’ cap situation right away. That’s not necessarily true. Actually, not at all true.
While Jefferson eventually will have a massive salary, the Vikings can get creative when structuring his contract so that the larger cap charges are back-loaded instead of being paid out right away. Need evidence? Nick Bosa currently stands as the highest paid non-QB in the NFL.
The first two years of Bosa’s deal, which averages $34 million per season, carried/carries cap hits of only $11 million and $14.7 million, respectively. That same type of structure, for JJ, would allow the Vikings increased flexibility during the next two years while they try to extend their window with Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter.
Then, in a few years, when the Vikings will likely have a quarterback on a rookie salary, Jefferson’s larger cap charges will kick in. Not to mention, the salary cap is only set to continue growing as larger NFL TV deals take effect. This will make those larger salary years easier to stomach.
Kirk Cousins – Willing to Take a Hometown Discount?
Kirk Cousins will be 36 when next season starts. Yet, by all appearances, even after the Achilles tear, he still has at least a few years of high-level play left. Look at the other top quarterbacks around the NFL who have played even into their 40s. While many consider him the GOAT, Tom Brady played until he was 45, and it’s not because he was some otherworldly athlete.
What Brady did was take care of his body like no other. We’re not going to assume Captain Kirk can play into his 40s, but we also wouldn’t rule it out, as Cousins is of the same mold. But that’s the thing, Kirk isn’t really close to 40, not in quarterback years.
If the Vikings sign Cousins to a 2-year contract this offseason, which has been the rumored length he’ll settle for, Kirk would be 37 when he plays the last game of that deal. This is an elite QB in his mid-30s, who figured out long ago the importance of prioritizing his health. In reality, age shouldn’t even be a factor in a two-year contract conversation.
So, with less of a concern that he’ll suddenly drop off in play, why shouldn’t the Vikings be ready to commit to their franchise QB on another three-year contract? If so, he just might be willing to offer a ‘hometown discount’ knowing there’s no other player he’d rather throw the football to than Justin Jefferson.
How big of a discount are we talking? Most believe it will land somewhere in the ranger of $30-$40 million per season. Cousins could get $50 million per season if willing to take one-year deals until he waved the retirement flag so anything under $40 million is a steal for the Vikings.
But rumor has it, that’s the discount Kirk will offer Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, as long as he can get two to three years of guaranteed money. He has a family with two young kids he likely doesn’t want to pull out of their school system, tearing them away from their friends, only to try and find similar success in an entirely different situation.
So when it comes time to negotiate a new contract again, it’s hard to envision Cousins wanting to play anywhere else other than Minnesota. He’s said several times how badly he wants to finish his career with the Vikings. Supported by a bright offensive mind in Coach O’Connell, plus one of the best casts of pass-catchers in football, good luck convincing Cousins there’s a better situation out there, not only for his career but also for his family.