With the Minnesota Vikings’ 2015 season officially over, the coaching staff will likely take a couple of days off soon to decompress from the long grind of the year, maybe enjoy a weekend, but the business of football never really stops.
A lot of the initial work will center on their own free agents. The Vikings and the other 31 teams have a window of opportunity to get deals signed with their own free agents before the open market begins in March, but there may be other considerations that will be discussed over the coming weeks. Those discussions will center on whether or not they want to keep five frontline players at their current salaries or move off of them, whether to restructure their contracts or release them outright and allowing them to become unrestricted free agents.
The five players in question will account for more than $41 million against the Vikings’ 2016 salary cap and each of them have pros and cons attached to their deals. These are the five players, based on the extent of their 2016 cap numbers.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace – The Vikings traded for Wallace, so the bonus money portion of the massive contract he was given by Miami didn’t follow him to Minnesota. However, his annual contract payments did follow. The Vikings were on the hook for $11 million in 2015, which seemed like gross overspending considering Wallace caught just 39 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns – making more than all the other Vikings receivers combined. In 2016, he’s scheduled to make $11.5 million and there’s no chance the Vikings are going to allocate that kind of money given his lack of game production. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings try to cut that number in half or if Wallace and his representatives will take a hard line stance and force the team to cut him and let him take his chances on the open market.
Offensive tackle Matt Kalil – The Vikings picked up the fifth-year option on Kalil’s rookie contract, which calls for him to be paid $11.1 million. This one isn’t negotiable. Either the Vikings honor the cost and pay him that money, work out a long-term extension, or they opt out of the deal and Kalil becomes an unrestricted free agent. There is a chance that the Vikings would consider not honoring the fifth year of the deal, yet still look to sign him to a long-term deal at more team-friendly terms. Young left tackles don’t often hit free agency, so if they opt for the latter route, there may be competition to sign the tackle that turns 27 in July.
Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt – Big Phil has missed the last 21 Vikings regular-season games and his $7.75 million cap number for 2016 is a little stiffer than the Vikings would like for a player who now has an injury history, having missed the last five games in 2014 with a torn pectoral muscle and all of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Rookie T.J. Clemmings took Loadholt’s place in the starting lineup, but, by coach Mike Zimmer’s assessment, was sporadic in how he handled the job. Loadholt is entering the final year of his current deal so the Vikings would save $6 million against the cap because they would lose $1.75 million in “dead money” – the prorated share of his signing bonus. If Loadholt is good to go, he’s a solid right tackle, but the Vikings may not be willing to pay that much money for a guy who hasn’t played in a meaningful game since November 2014.
Center John Sullivan – Sullivan has been a team leader on the field and in the locker room, but he has a cap figure of $5.83 million and is coming off back surgery in which he hoped to return at midseason. However, he suffered a setback during his rehab and was gone for the year. If the Vikings were to opt to release Sully, it wouldn’t have a big hit to the team in terms of dead money, which would be just $670,000, representing just 11 percent of his cap number. If he’s healthy, the Vikings would love to have Sullivan back, but he turns 31 during training camp and the team may be looking to either get a more team-friendly cap number or could consider letting him go. However, if Sullivan is healthy and has the itch to play, there will be no shortage of suitors for him.
Defensive end Brian Robison – This is the least likely scenario because his cap number isn’t too onerous ($5.05 million), but the dead money amount is ($2 million). If the Vikings were to move off of Robison, who turns 33 in April, the team would only save $3 million against the salary cap. As a respected team leader, his role may diminish somewhat, but it doesn’t seem very likely that the Vikings would simply release him because there isn’t enough incentive to make it logical.
Much of the focus between now and early March will be on the free agents the Vikings have – who will stay and who will go. But these five veterans may be just as important to the franchise formulating its offseason free-agent plan.
- With the Vikings now eliminated from the playoffs in the first group of four teams out, they will pick 23rd in this year’s draft. All four of the higher-seeded teams lost in the wild card round of the playoffs.
- The Vikings are reportedly one of the teams interested in former Miami interim head coach Dan Campbell. The former tight ends coach for the Dolphins was elevated to interim head coach after the firing of Joe Philbin four games into the season. The Vikings, Cowboys and Chargers have all reportedly expressed an interest.
- The Vikings-Seahawks game got the highest ratings ever for an early Sunday NFL Wild Card playoff game. The game averaged a whopping 35.3 million viewers with a high mark of 44 million late in the game. It represented a 27 percent increase over the previous early Sunday wild card game ratings record holder between Atlanta and the New York Giants Jan. 8, 2012.
- Several first-graders from Northpoint Elementary School in Blaine wrote letters of encouragement to Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, according to the Star Tribune. Julie Offerdahl, the teacher of the first-grade class, said it would be a good teachable moment for the kids to be encouraging of those who are down and how to treat people.
- From the You Can’t Make This Up Department comes this: Following Sunday’s loss a drunken fan who had been tailgating at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds broke into what he thought was a house with nobody home. It turned out to be a police substation used during the State Fair. He was quickly apprehended and arrested.
- Condolences go out to the fans of the St. Louis Rams, who supported their team for 21 years only to have an owner (Stan Kroenke) who refused to engage in discussions to build a new stadium and seemed bent on moving his franchise to Los Angeles almost from the moment he became the majority owner. It’s sad for St. Louis fans that have endured the sting of losing a franchise twice, especially the second time around when all accounts say the city and the State of Missouri were willing to build a new stadium that would have cost more than U.S. Bank Stadium.