Are they trying to win or not? Is this why Ryan Poles chose Chicago? Are the Wilfs calling the roster shots now? Does the whole league know the Vikings are screwed and that’s why nobody will trade for their veteran players? Could a Cousins trade still be coming? Were Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell told the team isn’t allowed to take a step back? What are they doing?
In the days following the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to extend Kirk Cousins, there has been a lot of guesses at the reasoning behind their subsequent moves — or lack thereof. At this point, you would need a football windtalker to crack the code.
In the first two days of the “legal tampering” period, the Vikings signed two cheap, solid defensive players who are set to replace two other solid defensive players. They kept the kicker. On Wednesday they kept the punter and added a backup lineman and blocking tight end, as one does.
Heading into the first day of the NFL league year, movement was expected as the Vikings needed to teeter on the right side of the salary cap before the 3 PM deadline. As all teams do, they achieved their cap-compliancy goal but still need to make $3.5 million in space to officially add defensive tackle Harrison Phillips to the squad (per OverTheCap).
Oh and all of that dead cap money from void-years deals that the “cap is a myth” folks thought didn’t exist dropped on the Vikings’ head on Wednesday. They now have $22 million in dead cap space. Are they still paying cap space to Kyle Rudolph? You betcha.
Anyway, nothing happened on Cap Compliancy Day. None of the options that have been discussed since the day the Vikings canned Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman have been selected yet. Nobody has been restructured, traded or extended except Cousins. Meanwhile, the top free agents have been finding new homes at housing-crises prices.
The Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling reported that the Vikings are trying to trade star edge rusher Danielle Hunter to alleviate cap space. Dealing him would create $14 million in space (or $19 million if it’s a post-June 1 designation). Dealing him after extending Cousins would also puzzle the heck out of any reasonable person who is following the team.
If you have been keeping an eye on trades around the league, the prices for players with salary cap issues are not good. The Browns traded a few Tim Couch signed jerseys and a $100 gas card (insert gas prices joke) for outstanding receiver Amari Cooper. Nobody would take Cleveland receiver Jarvis Landry, so the Browns had to cut him. Despite Hunter’s incredible production, teams aren’t likely to line up outside TCO Performance Center holding out draft picks because they know the Vikings have no leverage. They have to trade Hunter, cut him or extend him and other clubs are willing to dare the Vikings to take the risk of extending him or the shame of cutting him.
If he isn’t traded, guess who’s agent gets to win a top-of-market contract extension lottery from the Vikings next? Hunter will finally win one of these negotiations.
At least Hunter signing and staying would fit with the choice to keep Cousins. Hunter is extremely good at football and by giving Cousins an extension with a no-trade clause, the Vikings signaled that they believe they will be good right away. Otherwise, they would have moved on for whatever they could get, right? Yet they are less good in 2022 if they trade Hunter.
It’s already getting a little light on offensive linemen out there in the market. Somebody just signed Tom Compton.
The logical thing here would be to call for patience. Let’s let this whole thing play out rather than judging the painting before it’s finished. But it’s looking like a Picasso right now — and not in a good way. In a too-abstract-to-get-it way. Only instead of artistic types being the only ones who understand it, it’s only the fans who defend every move that can appreciate the true beauty in complete roster chaos.
With uncertainty comes a bunch of crackpot suspicions being tossed around on social media. Who knows, they could be right. We don’t have evidence to say: “This is the plan, friends, nothing to see here!”
With Zimmer and Spielman, we could predict their moves weeks before they made them. For better or worse, you knew they were going to get run stuffers, corners and wait until the last minute for an alleged No. 3 receiver. We don’t know Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell’s tendencies. Since they are doing this for the first time, they might not have anticipated that this would be so hard. Everybody has a notebook full of trade ideas until you get laughed off the phone by veteran GMs who know how messed up your cap situation is.
Agents aren’t silly gooses either. New deal to lower the cap hit? What are you going to do for me in exchange?
In the coming days, things will happen. Whether they paint all of Picasso’s twisted figures into soothing Monets or not, we’ll see. But stuff needs to go down. What everyone is looking for is a sign of strategy. Things seem to be happening haphazard. The next move has to point toward a plot.
Since we only have five months until the Vikings hop on the field again, there is time for things to work out. In fact, there are some outcomes that would give Vikings fans an ah-ha moment. See the light, even. If they traded Hunter with the intent to pour cap space into a few offensive linemen like center JC Tretter, who was released this week by the Browns, it would make sense. Another receiver to create a group of unstoppable weapons around Cousins? OK, OK. That would be different.
Waiting until the second wave of free agency is hardly crazy. Think about some of the Vikings’ moves that worked out last year, like safety Xavier Woods, who gave them over 1,000 snaps of solid play at safety for the price of a kicker. What if they aimed for some good deals for good players at positions that would make Cousins better?
At least you could see the route to maximizing the expensive QB with more talent on offense and the scheme of McVay’s right-hand man.
If that isn’t the way they’re going, the brass could play the short-and-long term game by signing young-ish, under-the-radar free agents with hopes that they were utilized wrongly at their previous stops. Hey it worked for a few teams with Cordarrelle Patterson. A fast receiver who couldn’t buy a target? A corner who sat behind a star? A situational edge rusher with potential to be a three-down outside linebacker? All of the above. Throw darts, hope a few hit and it’ll help this year and beyond.
Neither of those free agency plans can be put into action if the Vikings don’t do something with their current cap issues first. Making a handful of dollars out of a Hunter trade is robbing Peter to pay Paul, unless you get lucky and land several talented Pauls. It’s hard to figure out how the math adds up to this team being good enough to compete by subtracting an elite pass rusher and adding only a player or two.
And now we’re right back at the beginning. How is it all supposed to work? What is everybody missing? How are they supposed to do enough to be legitimately competitive for 2022, set the stage for the future and work around Cousins’ cap hits and no-trade clause?
It may end up remaining distorted through this year. They very well might end up looking much like 2020 or 2021 next season, with their eyes on next offseason to draft a quarterback and create real cap space to ink the world’s best available talent and then chase Lombardi until the brakes go out.
At the moment, it’s hard to tell. So for now all we’ve got are theories.