With the 2016 NFL season in the books, teams are already starting to prepare for Free Agency and the NFL Draft. The Minnesota Vikings started their preparations for next season when they released Offensive Guards Mike Harris and Brandon Fusco from the squad on Feb. 10. Between upcoming free agents and players whose contracts and production call for reevaluation, it is time to predict if some notable players will be back with the team.
Minnesota Vikings: Staying or Going
Players Under Contract For Next Season
The Vikings have several players for whom age, injuries, production and salary have become issues. For such players the team has several options; to simply cut them, attempt to restructure their contracts, keep them with their current contracts, or try to find a trade. As it stands, the Vikings have roughly $24 million is cap room, but the team will be trying to raise that number in order to sign some difference makers in free agency.
Long considered the best runner in the game, Adrian Peterson will be 32 when next season begins and is on the books for $18 million. That cap number would be ridiculous for a productive back in his prime, but is even more so for an aging back who only averaged 1.9 yards per carry in three games last season. Peterson is overrated on the field, and a distraction off of it. He already listing teams he would play for if released by the Vikings. While he has shown some willingness to restructure his contract, it is doubtful he and the team will be able to agree on a reasonable salary for the former superstar.
Prediction: Cut before Mar. 8 deadline
When Jarius Wright signed a 4 year $14.8 million dollar contract in 2015, he was a key part of the offense. After a season where he only caught one touchdown and was inactive for much of the season, it appears he and the team may be headed for a split. With a significant amount of dead money regardless of when he is released, simply cutting bait is not a good option. Instead, the team could look to trade the slot receiver to a team searching for offensive weapons.
Prediction: Traded to the Cleveland Browns for a 5th round pick
A first round pick in 2013, Sharrif Floyd had been a dominant defensive tackle during Mike Zimmer’s tenure. His problem has been staying healthy. Although he had only missed a handful of games prior to this season, he missed the last 15 games of last season with a knee injury. Even when he has been on the field, he has consistently been listed on the injury report. After Mike Zimmer expressed some frustration with Floyd’s inability to get back on the field last season, many questioned if the former Florida standout would be back. He is due over $6.75 million next season, with no dead money if he is released. However, his production when he has been on the field and the confidence the team showed by exercising his fifth year option both suggest he will return.
Prediction: Back for next season, but will have to earn back his starting spot
Other players like defensive end Brian Robison and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur may also be asked to take pay cuts.. However, the team has no reason to cut Robison, who also holds leverage with $1 million in dead money if he is released. Lamur, due $2.75 million, is good insurance if long-time starter Chad Greenway retires and the team does not have a replacement on hand.
Upcoming Free Agents
Unlike several recent seasons, the Vikings have a number of key players hitting free agency this season. If they are able to clear some cap room by cutting Adrian Peterson and trading Jarius Wright, as suggested above, the team would have would have almost $40 million to resign their own players and bring in free agents. With young stars like Xavier Rhodes soon to be due for new contracts, the team must be judicious when deciding who to prioritize resigning and who to let walk.
A former Division II player who went undrafted and only made the Vikings practice squad after an open tryout, Adam Thielen became an integral part of the passing offense last season. He had almost 1000 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns after spending most of his career to this point relegated to special teams. Now a restricted free agent, he must be the team’s highest priority to resign. The Vikings cannot make the same mistake the Buffalo Bills made last off season when they allowed restricted agent Chris Hogan to sign with the New England Patriots without receiving draft compensation. The team could place a 1st Round Tender on Thielen, which last year payed players around $3.6 million. This would allow the team to pay Thielen less than his market value and provide insurance in case another team decides they want to sign him. If another team signs him, they would have to give their first round pick to Minnesota.
This could set up a situation similar to that of Hall of Fame Running Back Curtis Marin with the Patriots after the 1997 season. A RFA, the Patriots placed a tender on Martin, but the New York Jets signed Martin away by formulating a contract the Patriots could not match due to their cap situation. The Patriots received first and third round picks from the Jets, while Martin went on to become the Jet’s all time rushing leader. For a team with no first round pick and serious needs along the Offensive Line and at Running Back, the Vikings may find the idea of allowing Thielen to sign with another team in exchange for a first round pick not only acceptable, but exciting.
Prediction: Thielen signs with the LA Chargers, reuniting with Wide Receivers coach George Stewart in exchange for a first round pick
After being signed from the Carolina Panthers in 2014, Captain Munnerlyn was supposed to be the starting Corner Back opposite Xavier Rhodes. After one poor season, veteran Terence Newman was brought in to play the outside, and Munnerlyn was relegated to Nickleback. Although he played well the last two seasons, coach Zimmer has many times expressed his preference for taller corners, a point the 5’9 Munnerlyn has taken personally.
Prediction: Signs with the Carolina Panthers
The fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Left Tackle Matt Kalil made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but has largely disappointed since. After spending most of last season on injured reserve with a hip injury, all signs would seem to point to the Vikings letting Kalil walk. Unfortunately, the free agent market may not be full of better alternatives. Aging veterans like Andrew Whitworth or cut candidate Jason Peters are good stopgaps, but not long term solutions. After those two, the best tackle available is probably either Ty Nsekhe, a relative unknown, or Kalil.
Prediction: Kalil resigns with the Vikings on a one year prove-it contract
Other key in-house free agents the team will need to make decisions on are punter Jeff Locke, fullback Zach Line and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. All three have had ups and downs and all three have expressed interest in returning to the team next season, but it remains to be seen if any or all will be back with the team. Veteran players linebacker Chad Greenway and corner back Terence Newman are both free agents as well, and while the team would likely love to have them back, they are both likely to retire.
The Minnesota Vikings will have many tough contract decisions to make this off season. After a disappointing 2016 season, the team must make good decisions on who to bring back and who to move on from. If the team does make the right choices on who to bring back, they should be well on their way to success for both the rest of the off season and next season.