Smith isn’t scheduled to be a free agent in 2016, as the Vikings picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, but signing him long-term would assure his presence in Minnesota for years to come.
Smith is scheduled to earn $5.278 million in 2016 and the top-10 earning safeties, based on average salary per year, are earning more than that, so it might not be a cap-saving move to sign him soon.
Still, Spielman expects a contract extension to be done “pretty soon.”
“I would imagine he would be one of those guys coming down the pike here pretty soon,” Spielman said on Thursday.
The Vikings will send a contingent of scouts, coaches and front-office personnel to the NFL Scouting Combine next week, and that’s where they typically meet with the agents for their pending free agents. Signing Smith before the start of free agency on March 9 would allow the Vikings to have a better idea of their money available under the cap for 2016 and in years to come.
Smith finished third on the team with 87 tackles in 2015, had 1½ sacks, six quarterback hits, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
“Harrison, the way he runs our back end, I think he’s one of the better playmakers at safety,” Spielman said. “He can play free and strong. He can be effective on the deep end and he’s just as effective when he gets walked up to the line of scrimmage, so he’s a good safety.”
The Vikings’ other starter at safety last year, Andrew Sendejo, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent if the Vikings don’t sign him before the start of free agency on March 9. So is backup Robert Blanton.
Spielman downplayed the Vikings’ role in signing outside free agents this year as he keeps an eye on contracts for valued players whose contracts will be expiring in the coming years. And signing his own free agents is the top priority.
“That’s the No. 1 thing to me is if you draft them right, those are the guys that you should know and if you know them the best, it’s the safest investment,” he said. “Now you can’t predict injuries, but you should know the warts that they have if they have any warts, where in the UFA market you may not know those guys’ warts if he has warts. You try to dig a little bit, but it’s a little different trying to get information.”
Veteran cornerback Terence Newman filled in at safety when the Vikings were thinned there due to injuries last year, but Spielman said he views Newman, who is also scheduled to be a free agent, as primarily a cornerback.