The first week of free agency took care of the heavy lifting for the Minnesota Vikings.
They signed two offensive tackles, a running back and a backup defensive lineman, spending more than $20 million of their $38 million in available salary cap space.
“There’s a specific business principle that we’re pretty consistent with in how we structure out contracts,” General Manager Rick Spielman said days before the negotiating window opened for free agency. “It gives us the flexibility to hopefully accomplish what we can. And there have been times we’ve been in free agency and we’re sitting there as you’re going through this negotiation period, especially when you’ve had that window, and we’re there until 1 or 2 in the morning.”
That turned out to be the case with Murray, whose contract signing was announced after midnight a week into free agency.
The Vikings weren’t frugal by any means. Their contracts with Reiff and Remmers both were in the top 10 for free-agent offensive linemen in total dollars and 2017 cap hit. But the “business principle” that the Vikings seemed to employ was giving themselves relatively early “outs” on those contracts, meaning they wouldn’t take a significant financial hit if they wanted to release those players after a couple years.
Reiff signed a five-year, $58.75 million contract with $26.3 million guaranteed and an $8.6 million cap hit this year. Remmers signed a five-year, $30 million deal with $10.5 million guaranteed and a $5.1 million cap hit in 2017.
In Reiff’s case, the Vikings could get out of that contract after two years and $26.5 million invested. In Remmer’s case, it’s two years and $11.5 million. With Reiff, they would save about $5 million in 2019 cap space if they cut him after two years. With Remmers’ contract, they would save about $4.5 million on their 2019 salary cap if they release him after the 2018 season.
Murray received a three-year, $15.5 million contract with $8.55 million reportedly guaranteed, but $5.15 million of that guaranteed money would only be guaranteed if he is with the Vikings in 2018.
The Vikings also lost out on some free agents they had in for visits, including running back Eddie Lacy and tight end Jared Cook, but the decisions are never easy with that kind of money being thrown around in the first phase of free agency.
“Sometimes we’ll pull the trigger and you’re staring at the ceiling [wondering] did we do the right thing, was it too much? Or we pulled back and said, ‘Well, should we have kept going?’ Those are the things that you have to weigh,” Spielman said. “I think you have to go in knowing where your limitations are, but also having the flexibility to adjust to where these market prices could potentially go.”
Of course, the Vikings hope that all three of their big-money investments pay off and the players are worth their contract into Year 3 and beyond, but just in case they have carefully planned for the big money to be allocated in the first year or two.
That’s also a prudent move, given the contracts that the Vikings have that are set to expire after the 2018 season, including Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Xavier Rhodes and Anthony Barr (they will have fifth-year options at their disposal for Barr and Bridgewater).
“We’ve always tried to plan at least two or three years out ahead, knowing what you have coming up as well, what we have to do to address those needs this year and what we can afford financially and how we have to structure our contracts,” Speilman said.
The Viking shelled out some big contracts between Reiff, Remmers and Murray, but, with the salary cap increasing by $10 million or more each of the last four years, they are simply keeping pace. The first-year money for free agents signed in the first week increased by more than 18 percent this year and guaranteed money increased by more than 16 percent.
Still, the Vikings structured their big-money contracts to allow them to get out from under them after a year or two if the players aren’t living up to team expectations. In other words, that appears to be the Vikings’ “business principle.”