The Next Contract Will Tell Us Plenty About the Direction of the Vikings in 2023 & Beyond


NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings are in the middle of a competitive rebuild. Or, put differently, an effort to construct a young, cost-efficient roster that has the capacity to make the playoffs on a yearly basis. The direction of the Vikings has certainly been tough to accept for a lot of onlookers, but the GM doesn’t appear to be changing course anytime soon.

Since taking over as GM, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has shown next to no desire to enter a traditional rebuild. Instead, he’s building around the players whom he considers cornerstones from the previous regime — Justin Jefferson foremost among them, but Christian Darrisaw isn’t too far behind — while supplementing that pre-existing core with young talent capable of helping for years to come (T.J. Hockenson, Byron Murphy, Marcus Davenport, and, of course, the draft picks).

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is pressured by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, Adofo-Mensah made the shrewd decision to retain Danielle Hunter on a 1-year deal. Keeping the elite edge rusher in a purple uniform suggests that the Vikings are supremely interested in competing during the upcoming season. Yes, a wholesale focus on future contention would have involved trading Hunter to the highest bidder.

When we step back, we can continue to wonder what the next move will be since it’ll offer similar clarity.

Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson come to mind as players in need of an extension. Many would have expected the deals to be done by now, but Kwesi proceeds on his own timeline. When Adofo-Mensah does complete the extensions for these players (alongside whatever else he has up his sleeve), fan and analyst alike will gain some added knowledge about the team’s strategy for contending.

The Direction of the Vikings: Follow the Money

Money runs the show in the NFL. Cutting through all of the press conference soundbites and clichés is how a team chooses to spend its cold, hard cash.

For a little while now, it’s been abundantly clear that 2024 is the time when the roster will fully flip over into one that’s of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s making. Last season, Rick Spielman still exercised considerable influence over the Vikings. The recent offseason exodus certainly led to a lot of change — goodbye Eric Kendricks, Adam Thielen, Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantlzer, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Kris Boyd — but the Spielman influence is still playing a role.

Rick Spielman
Jun 11, 2019; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman after practice at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Not as much in 2024, though.

One could easily envision a scenario where players like K.J. Osborn, Ezra Cleveland, D.J. Wonnum, Kene Nwangwu, and Camryn Bynum — all quality NFL players — are putting on a different uniform as the new GM keeps creating a roster in his own image. Yes, the overhaul will continue, and it remains to be seen who will join players like Garrett Bradbury, Alexander Mattison, and Justin Jefferson as guys who get grafted into Kwesi’s long-term plan.

Even Kirk Cousins is a mystery. As of right now, the only commitment is to 2023. Cousins is the QB1 for the upcoming season and not much else has been settled. True, he left the door ajar before training camp, suggesting that his agent could (in theory) call with a legitimate offer from the Vikings anytime. Until we learn of some firm news, though, it’s hard to be overly confident in an extension hitting before the conclusion of the upcoming season.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Aug 5, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17) during training camp at Twin Cities Orthopedic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

In contrast, the impending deal for #18 feels like it could hit at any moment.

Jefferson’s extension will be telling. Next year, the WR1 carries a cap hit at $19.743 million. An extension can clear a lot of that cap charge off of the books. Pushing for max savings in 2024 on the Jefferson deal means keeping Cousins is likelier. Paying a large amount to keep Mr. Cousins is more realistic if Jefferson isn’t carrying a massive hit.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Hockenson’s new deal, assuming one gets done, is going to eat into the team’s $50+ million in projected cap space for 2024, but the structure will be important (like with all deals). Something that minimizes the 2024 charge wouldn’t be altogether surprising, especially since the Vikings are aching for reinforcements at several spots.

The point, folks, is that the upcoming deals for various star players will offer a lot of guidance for how we should understand what’s coming. Minimizing the 2024 cap charges would suggest that the team is likely to go on a bit of spending spree to supercharge the roster. The hope would involve becoming one of the league’s preeminent Super Bowl contenders. In that sense, things shift gears a touch, emphasizing the “rebuild” less as the “competitive” comes to the fore.

Being patient with the contracts isn’t easy for fans, but that patience will be rewarded once the deals hit and we all gain a clearer view of where the team is heading.

Editor’s Note: Information from Over the Cap helped with this piece.



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