Zulgad’s four-and-out: Vikings’ busy day includes restructure of Kirk Cousins’ contract
The Vikings remained busy a day before NFL free agency officially opened and the signings of tight end Josh Oliver and defensive end Marcus Davenport could be announced.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins had his contract restructured, center Garrett Bradbury agreed to a deal that will keep him off the free agent market, running back Dalvin Cook continued to be shopped, and a decision neared on safety Harrison Smith.
Here’s a recap of what happened at TCO Performance Center with a thought on each decision:
Kirk Cousins' contract restructured
The Vikings created $16 million in salary-cap room by converting the $20 million roster bonus that Cousins was due into a signing bonus. This was done in large part because talks to extend his contract past the 2023 season stalled.
While the move helps immediately, it also added two more void years to Cousins’ contract (through 2027) and means the quarterback will have a $28.5 million cap hit in 2024, assuming that last season is his final year with Minnesota.
This is interesting considering the Vikings decided to take on all of wide receiver Adam Thielen’s cap charge of nearly $13.6 million for 2023, instead of putting part of that into 2024 by making him a post-June 1 cut. The Thielen move showed that the Vikings were willing to put up with some short-term salary cap pain but the Cousins move has the potential to cause serious cap issues down the road.
The move on Cousins makes Minnesota salary-cap compliant — the Vikings had until 3 p.m. Wednesday to get there — and puts them $6.1 million under the cap. The Vikings can also restructure the contract of right tackle Brian O’Neill to lower his $19.7 million cap number.
As for Cousins, the Vikings could attempt to negotiate another extension with the 34-year-old in order to lessen that 2024 hit, but if that doesn’t happen they will be paying a steep price for a guy who isn’t on the roster.
The bottom line: I don’t love this decision, but the Vikings must have felt it was absolutely necessary to make moves in free agency, and they also set themselves up to have a substantial amount of cap room next March. Does this also mean that Cousins could return in 2024?
Garrett Bradbury's improvement earns him contract extension
Bradbury was the 18th pick in the first round of the 2019 draft but was such a disappointment that the Vikings didn’t exercise his fifth-year option for 2023.
Just how bad was the center in pass protection in his first three years? He ranked last in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking grades among the centers who qualified in two of his first three seasons and was next-to-last in the other. Despite his struggles, Bradbury got a chance to continue starting last season under first-year coach Kevin O’Connell and showed improvement.
He ranked 19th among NFL centers with a pass block win rate of 93.9 percent, according to ESPN. However, a back injury cost him the final five games of the regular season and he did not look healthy in the Vikings’ playoff loss to the Giants.
Nonetheless, Bradbury’s performance earned him a three-year contract worth a reported $15.75 million. His return means the Vikings’ offensive line should remain intact for a second consecutive season with Christian Darrisaw and O’Neill at left and right tackle, respectively, and Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram at the guards.
The bottom line: The Vikings better hope that Bradbury has turned a corner and that he didn’t show improvement because of the motivation from an expiring contract.
Dalvin Cook situation remains unclear
The Vikings have spent the week shopping running back Dalvin Cook, according to SKOR North insider Darren (Doogie) Wolfson, but it appears the only offers they have received for the veteran have been late-round picks.
While the Vikings were fine moving off of Thielen and linebacker Eric Kendricks, it appears to be a different story with Cook. The team is only willing to trade him for what it considers to be fair compensation and it doesn’t seem that Cook is a candidate to be released.
Wolfson has reported that Atlanta and Miami are interested in the 27-year-old. Cook, who had a career-low 4.4 yards per carry in 17 games in 2022, has three years remaining on his contract, and releasing him now would put $8.2 million of dead money on the cap to save $5.9 million. A trade would lower the dead money hit to $6.2 million and create $7.9 million in savings.
Cook’s cap number for 2023, if he remains in Minnesota, will be $14.1 million. The solution might be releasing him after the coming season because the savings would be $12.5 million, with only $3.1 million of dead money.
The bottom line: Unless somebody decides to pay the price the Vikings are asking for Cook, he’s likely to return for a final season in purple.
Decision nearing on Harrison Smith
A decision on whether Smith will stay was expected at some point on Tuesday evening, according to Wolfson. Smith, 34, is set to have a base salary of $14.7 million for 2023 with a salary-cap hit of $19.1 million. The Vikings want to get that figure down, and if they can’t, it is likely that Smith will be headed elsewhere after 11 seasons and six Pro Bowl selections in Minnesota.
Releasing Smith without a June-1 designation would leave $11.7 million in dead money on the cap for 2023 and save $7.4 million. Smith tied his career high with five interceptions in 14 games last season and would provide a veteran presence in new defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ scheme.
But, it’s clear that if Smith does find himself playing a 12th season for the Vikings it’s going to be on the Vikings’ terms.
The bottom line: The exit of veterans such as cornerback Patrick Peterson, defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, and Eric Kendricks paired with the expected departure of outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith might be enough for the veteran safety to decide he wants a fresh start elsewhere in pursuit of a Super Bowl ring.