By Colton Hall
If you produce, you get the big bucks.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the Minnesota Vikings didn’t sign as many free agents as many other NFL teams did in this year’s NFL free agency.
There are multiple reasons for the lack of inking new “big” pieces to the Vikings roster.
Looking at the cap space that the team had available, it’s a wonder as to how General Manager Rick Spielman resigned any Vikings players with expiring contracts let alone added any new additions or filled any holes.
The Vikings began free agency with the second-lowest amount of cap space available with $4.94 million to sign players that contributed for the team. That’s not a lot to shell out for the likes of players like Anthony Barr (who realized that the Vikings were better than the Jets) who was the first player drafted by the Spielman and Mike Zimmer duo in 2014 with the 9th overall pick.
After free agency, one thing remains clear.
The Vikings didn’t have the big money to spend in free agency, and therefore will be building through the draft while resigning key players.
Same old plan. Different year.
Since Zimmer was hired as the head coach in 2014, the Vikings for the most part have only brought in a minimal number of free agents for some big cash (I know the whole Kirk Cousins contract kind of contradicts this, but let’s look at some examples).Embed from Getty Images
Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph
In 2014, the Vikings first signed DE Everson Griffen to a five-year, 42.5 million deal.
Griffen has been a stalwart for the purple defense since 2014, recording 49 sacks over the last five seasons, so the contract has worked out for both parties. Griffen signed a 4-year contract extension with the Vikings in 2017 worth $58 million.
After a down year in 2018 in which Griffen recorded a 5.5 sacks, and missed five games because of a personal health issues, Griffen agreed to a restructured deal in which he will make $8 million instead of the $10.9 in his original contract extension.
The signing of Griffen in 2014 was followed by the signing of free agent DT Linval Joseph. The Vikings inked Joseph to a four-year, $50.4 million contract with $31.5 million in guaranteed money.
Joseph has been worth the money as well. The Eastern Carolina product graded out at a 75.6 according to Pro Football Focus last year, and has consistently been a forced for the Vikings since 2014.
Joseph recorded 306 tackles, as well as 12 of his 21 career sacks, in his last five years with the Vikings.
Joseph also took a fumble back 64-yards to pay dirt on this play last year against the Eagles.
Captain and Barr
The Vikings later signed Nickel CB Captain Munnerlyn to a three-year deal worth $14.25 million. Munnerlyn went on to record 171 tackles, one sack, four interceptions, and 12 deflected passes over the next three years before joins the Panthers in 2017.
Zimmer’s defense was coming together.
Tom Johnson was the next signing from the Vikings brass. Johnson signed a one-year deal worth about $845,000.
Johnson performed well above his contract by finishing with 6.5 sacks, and was rewarded with a three-year, $7 million contract in 2015. After coming back from Seattle in 2018, Johnson amassed 4.5 sacks for the Vikings, and is currently a free agent.
In the 2014 NFL draft, the Vikings selected linebacker Anthony Barr from UCLA with the ninth overall selection. Barr went on to record 70 tackles and four sacks in his rookie year. The Vikings would finish 7-9 in 2014 after a 5-10-1 finish in 2013.
In 2015, Terrance Newman was the next addition to Zimmer’s new team. Newman (a seemingly ageless DB) started by signing a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.
Newman produced, recording 62 tackles, three interceptions and 12 passes defensed. Not bad production from a then 36-year old. Newman came back to Minnesota for two more years (on a pair of one-year deals) and logged 73 tackles, two interceptions, and 13 defended passes.
I could keep listing examples, but the premise stays the same. The Vikings continue to build through the draft and some small signings in free agency. If those players produce, they bring them back.
Again, the Kirk Cousins signing contradicts this, but it’s one signing. Everyone on Minnesota’s defense, except Linval Joseph, was drafted and developed by the Vikings. That’s why the Vikings defense has been a good defense over the last five seasons with Zimmer at the helm.
Free Agency isn’t free
Why sign a player to a four to five-year deal, when you can draft a player, develop them and continue to sign them to extensions? This way, the Vikings will have players for 10-15 years.
Don’t worry about the big-name players. Zimmer and Spielman are building a team that’s going to be good for years to come, not necessarily to win now.
Or would you want to be the 2015 Eagles and be stuck with Demarco Murray (who only ran for 702 years one year after a career high 1845 yards with the Cowboys in 2014) in that contract? There are never any guarantees in free agency.
Or would you rather have the same good player for 10-15 years? The Vikings continue to choose the latter.