Are the Wilfs Skimping on Vikings Payroll Because of the Soccer Team They Bought?

Zygi Wilf, Minnesota Vikings
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody sees the Wilf family as being unwilling spenders. They paid for half of U.S. Bank Stadium, and a lot more since then to keep it up as one of the highest quality stadiums in the world. They always spend all the way to the salary cap and consistently do their best to put a winning product on the field.

Unlike other owners in this market, not once has “cheap” been attached to the Wilfs. Rather, Minnesota sports fans usually use them as a benchmark for what proper ownership should look like. But have they been quietly pushing to save money in recent years… in player salary, of all places?

Wilf family skimping on Minnesota Vikings payroll?

That’s what local insider Charley Walters (Pioneer Press) is suggesting. According to the longtime St. Paul columnist, there are “smart people” telling him that the Wilfs have been skimping on Vikings player payroll ever since they bought the Orlando City SC, an MLS team, back in 2021.

For the third straight year, Vikings’ team payroll has been low. Some smart people wonder whether the reason is that owners Zygi and Mark Wilf three years ago paid nearly $500 million for the Orlando City team in Major League Soccer. Spending that amount on soccer may have decreased cash flow for the football team.

Two years ago, the Vikings were near the bottom of the 32-team NFL in real payroll; last year they were still in the bottom half, and currently are ranked near the bottom. The highest-paid players on the team were Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter and they’re gone, so there’s no excuse not to sign Jefferson.

After further review, Charley is 100% correct. The Minnesota Vikings have been in the bottom half of the NFL in real cash payroll the past few seasons.

The numbers say…

According to Spotrac, they paid the 3rd-most cash to players of any NFL team back in 2018, the sixth-most in 2019 and eleventh-most in 2020. But then in 2021, they tanked all the way down to 26th, jumped back up a little bit in 2022 (still bottom half), then back down to 23rd last season.

In 2024, they’re currently projected to pay the 28th most cash to players, unless something changes (like a Justin Jefferson extension with a massive signing bonus). Remember, the Wilfs purchased the Orlando SC in 2021.

YearTotal Cash PaidNFL RankNFL Salary Cap
2016$160 Million (11th)11th$155M
2017$169 Million (14th)14th$167M
2018$218 Million (3rd)3th$177M
2019$205 Million (5th)6th$188M
2020$229 Million (11th)11th$198M
2021$191 Million (26th)26th$182M
2022$230 Million (16th)16th$208M
2023$232 Million (23rd)23th$225M
2024*$226 Million (28th)28th$255M | *Projected

Of course, this is not Major League Baseball. The NFL has a salary cap that only allows teams to spend so much money year in and year out. But the NFL’s salary cap is not a simple one. You can move money around, convert salary dollars into signing bonuses, add void years to the end of contracts… etc etc etc.

The maneuvering goes on and on. Some teams are better at it than others. But real dollars do not always match what the salary cap books show, if that makes sense. Look to the table above. In 2018, the Vikings were the 3rd biggest spender of real cash dollars of any team in the entire NFL.

Why? Because they signed Kirk Cousins to a record-setting fully-guaranteed deal that paid out a huge signing bonus up front. That signing bonus was direct deposited into Kirk’s bank account in straight cash homie. Tens of millions of dollars.

Related: Could Too Much Torque on J.J. McCarthy’s Arm be a Concern for Vikings?

minnesota vikings, zygi wilf
Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

So is this why Justin Jefferson hasn’t been signed yet? We’ve all been wondering why the Minnesota Vikings would wait on paying JJ, when they could have given him an offer he couldn’t have refused last year and ended up paying way less than whatever they are going to end up paying him this offseason… or next.

Could it have been a cash flow problem on the Wilfs’ end? Maybe, maybe not. But there is no doubt that the table above shows an obvious trend since Zygi and the boys bought the Orlando SC.

Prior to that purchase, the Vikings had enjoyed a half decade of high-class spending, compared to the rest of the NFL. Since the purchase, they’ve mostly been near the bottom of the league in spending. If JJ doesn’t get paid, they’ll probably be near the bottom again in 2024 (currently projected for 28th).

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