Vikings Salary Cap Situation Far Less Dire than it Appears

Minnesota Vikings fans have been lamenting life across the state and beyond, since flaming out of the playoffs, in a Wildcard round loss to the New York Giants last Sunday afternoon. Sure, Kirk Cousins made a terrible decision on the last play of the game.

But, anyone watching that day wasn’t blaming Kirk. Because it was the defense that failed their assignment and cost the Vikings a chance at moving on in possibly the most mediocre NFC playoff field in recent history.

That’s why (as expected) defensive coordinator, Ed Donatell, was fired on Thursday and why offensive coordinator, Wes Phillips, is turning down better job opportunities to stay put.

Fixing Problems Under Vikings Salary Cap Crunch?

But how are the Vikings going to fix their issues on defense, and some on offense, given what appears to be a major salary cap crunch? According to Spotrac.com, Minnesota enters the offseason in the bottom 1/3 (#25) of the NFL in available cap space with $-13.8 million.

It’s difficult to do home improvements when you have a negative bank account balance, right? Luckily — or unluckily for many current players — NFL salary cap budgets do not work like real life budgets. And in GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s case, he has a lot of levers he can pull, to create $10’s of millions in available room this offseason.

The cost will come in the form of fan favorite veteran cuts or trades, in order to create cap space. That’s okay though, because many play on defense (remember how we started this blog) and all of them are far past their prime or playing in a scheme they aren’t suited for.

Veterans Who Vikings Can Cut/Trade to Save Money

Here is the list of veteran players who the Minnesota Vikings can save money by moving on from. It includes fan favorites like Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith. If Kwesi were to cut every player below (most with a June 1 designation), the Vikings would clear $83.4 million off their books, giving them over $70 million to work with this offseason.

That amount ($70M) would currently be the 2nd-most in the NFL, behind only the Chicago Bears, who project to have whopping $115 million in available space.

Is there any player listed above who you feel the 2023-24 Minnesota Vikings couldn’t win without? Za’Darius Smith had a really good season (10 sacks + Pro Bowl), but fell off in the final weeks. Opposite him, Danielle Hunter struggled to play in a 3-4 defense and will get much more expensive next year.

Others on the list who would be sorely missed by fans, but not so much on the field at this stage of their careers, include Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks. Dalvin Cook just completed his 4th-straight season over 1000 yards.

Could the Vikings get a mid-late round draft pick for his services? Maybe. But even if not, it’s unlikely this KAM/KOC regime is going to pay an aging running back over $14 million against the salary cap.

More Money to Save

Cutting and trading players aren’t the only ways the Vikings can save money against the cap this offseason. They could also extend Kirk Cousins’ contract in a way that would guarantee him one more season in Minnesota on the back end and save the front office money on the front end.

Restructuring Brian O’Neill’s contract, by converting more of his salary into a signing bonus, is another option and it would be much easier because the Vikings do not need his permission to do so.

minnesota vikings salary cap kwesi adofo mensah
PHOTO: ELIZABETH FLORES – STAR TRIBUNE
New Look Vikings

If Kwesi & Co are going to exodus most of the players listed above, it will be up to him to use that money in a way that will improve the roster. Clearing all that space is only half the battle. If he and the organization want to win now, much of the replacement players will have to come via established free agents or trade acquisitions.

Though, it’s difficult to imagine a defense worse than what we saw take the field last weekend. No matter how established or talented it is.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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