We were all told the same thing over and over again. The Minnesota Vikings are going to have to sacrifice the ability to re-sign some players in order to make this work. That was simply going to be the price that they would have to pay in order to get the guy they wanted.
On March 15th, 2018, the Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a deal that was unprecedented at the time. That deal was for three years with $84 million guaranteed, which made him the highest paid QB.
This deal was supposed to spark a period where Minnesota would have to let some key pieces walk away. Since then, the Vikings have made the following moves.
In 2018, the Vikings extended linebacker Eric Kendricks to a five year, $25 million guaranteed deal worth up to $50 million. They also extended both defensive end Danielle Hunter and receiver Stefon Diggs to five year deals worth $40 million guaranteed with the ability to get about $72 million.
In 2019, Minnesota continued locking down key pieces. After getting cold feet about joining the Jets (which is always the right decision), the Vikings locked down linebacker Anthony Barr to a five year deal with $33 million guaranteed, worth up to $67.5 million. In the same week, the Vikings renegotiated with defensive end Everson Griffen to get his salary down to $8 million for this year, creating more cap space.
More recently, the Vikings renegotiated with two more offensive weapons as well. They were able to rework Adam Thielen’s deal to better match his output, agreeing to a five year deal worth $33 million guaranteed along with a $64.2 million ceiling.
This week, the final piece was locked up as tight end Kyle Rudolph restructured his deal to extend him for four years, getting him $9.25 million guaranteed and a potential $36 million max.
This move was essential for the Vikings as their cap space for this season jumped from an impossible to work with $600,000 to over $4 million.
I’m not a salary capologist, so I’m not exactly sure how this was arranged or what this means for the team in future years. However, not a single key piece has been shown the door due to Kirk Cousins’ contract.
Now, you certainly could argue the quarterback was overpaid for his services. However, only a year and a half later, Cousins has fallen to the 5th highest paid player at his position.
Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan all make more than Kirk while Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck are all within $3 million annually.
The nature of the NFL is that as each year passes, each quarterback that needs to be signed will either break or come close to breaking the highest salary record. Just a few weeks ago Carson Wentz signed a four year deal with $107 million guaranteed.
All that is to say that each season Kirk’s cap number, although still probably higher than his skill level, becomes more reasonable and more comparable to similarly talented quarterbacks.
Although the salary cap finagling has maintained the roster, it has not given any flexibility to improve it, specifically on the offensive line. The Vikings are bringing back essentially the same roster of core guys who finished 8-7-1 last season and missed the playoffs.
Is the current roster talented enough to make a deep playoff run? Probably. Is Kirk the kind of quarterback that can lead this type of team? He has yet to show it in his career, so there isn’t a ton of evidence to be overly optimistic about.
But at a minimum, despite Kirk’s big cap number, the Vikings have been able to surround him with talented offensive weapons and a deep and elite defensive unit. I guess time will tell if Kirk knows how to use it.