Vikings Stock Market Report: Free Agency – Daily Norseman

The last time we saw our intrepid Minnesota Vikings, they were getting a phoot to the phace in the NPHC Championship in Philly, and the Vikings headed in to the off-season with three mandates:

Solidify the quarterback position, long term.

Address the three technique DT, assuming Shariff Floyd wasn’t coming back (hint: he ain’t).

Add depth to the offensive line, and maybe an interior starter if Joe Berger retires.

The Minnesota Vikings have attacked the first two with a vengeance, landing the two biggest players at those respective positions within 48 hours of free agency opening. They were monster deals that have made the Vikings one of the early winners in free agency, but questions linger about the big money thrown at Kirk Cousins as the answer at quarterback, and the ability to sign their young players to keep this train rolling. I have a feeling that fans are coming to terms with the answer at QB, and Messrs Spielman and Brzezinski will do that voodoo that they do to keep guys in the fold they want to keep. We can work it out, can’t we Mr. McCartney?

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Think of what you’re saying

You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright

Think of what I’m saying

We can work it out and get it straight, or say goodnight

We can work it out

We can work it out

Life is very short, and there’s no time

For fussing and fighting, my friend

I have always thought that it’s a crime

So I will ask you once again

Try to see it my way

Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong

While you see your way,

There’s a chance that we may fall apart before too long

We can work it out

We can work it out

Your SMR that is fully guaranteed to be whatever you want it to be for the next three years follows. You like that? YOU LIKE THAT!

Blue Chip Stocks:

Kirk Cousins, QB: When I think of how things have played out for Kirk Cousins, I think of that ‘congratulations you played yourself’ meme that’s popular on the Internet, only in reverse. Cousins bet on himself twice by not signing a contract extension in Washington and ‘settling’ for two straight years of franchise tag money. Then he let it be known that he wanted a fully guaranteed contract, and he got it, to the tune of three years and $84 million.

For the Vikings, what the Vikings lose in (potential, which we’ll discuss) salary cap maneuverability they make up for in one of the best 10 QB’s in the NFL right now, in almost every category except games he’s won as a starter. Cousins can flat out play, and though he isn’t #TeamTeddy, #TeamSleeves, or #TeamBriefCase, he’s a good dude that can chuck the rock and gives the Vikings, finally, stability at a position that has seen more unrest than Venezuela. And having a defense should help the RAWR RAWR COUSINS HAS A LOSING RECORD QB WINZZZZZ RAWR RAWR

All things being equal, this defense and Cousins in a top 10 offense means the Vikings should win a lot of football games. You put his numbers and his durability up against any of the three guys the Vikings had on the roster last year, and there’s no question the Vikings made the right move here. As to his contract and the salary cap, assuming the cap rises at the rate it has been the last few years, his contract shouldn’t ever exceed more than 15-16% of available cap space.

And that’s a reasonable assumption, which we’ll talk about below. Yes, this is a shameless tease to get you to keep reading. No, I’m not sorry.

Cooper Cousins, son of Kirk and Julie Cousins. Babies are adorable, except Rosemary’s. But babies in Vikings gear doing the ‘SKOL’ chant (with a little help from Mom)? TOTES MAGOTES:

Sheldon Richardson, DT: There was a lot of talk after the Cousins signing that the Vikings were essentially done in free agency because RAWR RAWR NO CAP ROOM RAWR RAWR. Then they signed, arguably, the best DT that hit the market on a one year, $8 million dollar deal. If you look at just the statline, you’re just kind of ‘meh’. But watch some tape of him, and focus on just how disruptive he is, and how much pressure he brings up the middle, even if he doesn’t get home as much as you’d like. Richardson is one of the best 3-technique DT’s in the game, and just thinking about him being matched with Linval Joseph on the interior…muahahahahaha:

John DeFilippo, Offensive Coordinator. When Pat Shurmur left for the New York Giants head coaching job, the Vikings waited out the rest of the post season and hired what many consider to be the best young offensive mind in the game in ’Flip’. As good as Cousins can be, his game has some noticeable flaws. His decision making can be suspect at times, and his ability to handle edge pressure come to mind. DeFilippo turned Carson Wentz into an MVP candidate before his injury, and retooled the offense to play into the strengths of Nick Foles…and Foles was only the Super Bowl MVP who matched Tom Brady play for play. It’s exciting to see what a player of Cousins’ caliber, matched with the coaching ability of Flip, will be able to bring to the Vikings offense.

Rick Spielman, GM: With the Cousins and Richardson signings, Spielman let it be known that the Vikings have pushed all their chips in and are going for it. If ever there was a time that the Vikings had a good enough team that can compete for the Super Bowl, it’s now. They have the number one defense in the NFL, and they have 10 guys coming back. The 11th was replaced by Sheldon Freakin’ Richardson. The offense was a top 10 unit that has a significant upgrade at quarterback AND Dalvin Cook returning. Spielman has had some ‘meh’ moments since his time in Minnesota, but when you look at how this roster has been built through the draft and free agency since he became full time GM in 2012, you can’t help but be impressed. Spielman has used the draft to fill the roster, and free agency to augment the areas they missed on by bad evaluations or bad luck (think o-line and Shariff Floyd injury) almost in harmony to get the Vikings to this point.

Whatever his failings have been in terms of missed picks, he’s more than made up for it with controlled aggression in free agency and draft weekend to get guys the team needs without putting the Vikings in salary cap Hell. There’s a reason he was named Executive of the Year, and he’s not resting on his laurels.

Zygi and Mark Wilf, Owners. If the Vikings don’t win the Super Bowl in the Wilf ownership era, it won’t be because of the Wilfs. They have gotten a new stadium, new training facility and team headquarters that, according to both Cousins and Richardson, is hands down the best in the NFL, they’ve hired the right people in the right positions, and then they let them do their job with full support and minimal interference. There is little to no off the field drama anymore, and when you compare the franchise now to when the Wilfs bought it from Red McCombs, it’s a night and day difference.

Solid Investments

Latavius Murray, RB: As free agency opened, word spread that the Vikings were going to ask Murray to re-structure his deal, or face being released. Had the Vikings released him, a position group that was one of the strengths of 2017 was going to become a concern. Dalvin Cook should be back and at 100%, but Jerick McKinnon is gone to San Francisco, and losing Murray would have been a serious issue that would have forced the Vikings to either sign a low key free agent or get another running back fairly early in the draft. Keeping Murray is a win for both sides, as he brings a lot to the table for the Vikings as a pass catcher, blocker, and runner, especially down on the goal line. They’ll still need to address RB depth, but it’s not nearly the priority it could have been had Murray been let go.

Trevor Siemien Simian Semen Seaman Siemian, QB: When the Vikings decided to part ways with all three of their starting caliber QB’s on the roster, the Vikings needed a backup, The Legend Of Kyle Sloter aside. Getting Siemian, a guy that’s started 24 games in the NFL, for under two million bucks was a low key good move to solidify the backup spot, and gives the Vikings an experienced guy that can play at a decent level if he needs to. And he is now slated to make over $20 million dollars in 2019 as the next guy to start for the Vikings when the starter gets hurt and then moves on to another team because Vikings. Sigh. (Sorry, gallows humor is the only humor when dealing with this team sometimes).

Junk Bonds

Jarius Wright, WR: This isn’t a knock on Wright’s play, at all. Yes, at first glance his numbers are lacking compared to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, but this is more a knock on the coaching staff to not give him his due, for whatever reason. The Vikings never seemed to warm up to Wright as a full time number three guy, for reasons that seem baffling to a lot of fans, myself included. It doesn’t make sense to me, because all he ever did when given an opportunity is make a play. He was like the ‘in case of emergency break glass’ type guy, because every catch seemed to be huge, and at a really important point of the game. It’s been reported by Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press that he could return to the Vikes, but for now it seems like the Vikings just cut a legit WR3 a couple days after they signed a guy that utilized WR3 a ton on his previous team:

Buy/Sell

Buy: The Vikings will still have enough to extend guys they want. At first glance, three years at $84 million guaranteed seems like a daunting contract in the salary cap era:

But as pointed out by Andrew Krammer above, the Cousins contract will only eat up just over 15% of the cap in any given year, assuming the cap continues to increase at the rate it has. And that’s a reasonable assumption to make, based on what we’ve seen over the last five years:

2018: $177.2 million

2017: $167.00 million

2016: $155.27 million

2015: $143.28 million

2014: $133 million

If the cap is at or around $197-198 million 2020, (and there’s no reason to believe it won’t be), Cousins’ cap hit is 15.6% of the overall cap. Basically, what I’m telling you is don’t freak out over his contract for the three years, because it still gives the Vikings enough flexibility to do what they want in terms of contract extensions and free agency signings. If the Vikings choose not to re-sign Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs, or Danielle Hunter, ‘being too expensive’ won’t be a reason the Vikings move on.

Unless the cap numbers remain stagnant, or God forbid drop. Yeah, then you can freak out.

Sell: The salary cap will remain stagnant or drop during the life of the Cousins contract. So don’t freak out. The current labor agreement doesn’t expire until after the 2020 season, and the current TV deals run through 2022. So to be honest, a $10 million dollar increase a season to the team salary cap feels like the floor, not the ceiling. This hasn’t been talked about a lot, but I think both the Vikings and Cousins were prudent to only do a three year deal. There seems to be labor strife on the horizon when the current CBA expires, and how that will affect things like player salaries, the salary cap, and the franchise tag have yet to play out. Nothing could change, or everything could change. We could find ourselves in a whole new landscape from a salary perspective when this contract ends, and I’m confident that if the Vikings and Cousins are a match, he’ll be with the Vikings for a ‘lifetime’, as Cousins said in his introductory press conference.

Or, you know, the quarterback position for the Vikings will be a turbulent black hole forever and ever amen until all life on Earth ends in a massive fireball. Your call. I can go either way.

Buy: The Great Quarterback Wars are over. Last season, whenever I was asked about the Vikings QB situation on radio interviews, podcasts, or just talking to you fine folks on here or elsewhere on social media, I firmly believed that the Vikings long term answer at the position was on the roster. It wasn’t unreasonable to believe that one of Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum, or Sam Bradford would be back at the helm in 2018. So naturally, as soon as the legal tampering period began, Cousins and Minnesota heated up like a white phosphorous flare, and he was a Viking some 24’ish hours after free agency opened.

Kids, this is reason number 9,845 why you should never listen or take heed in anything I say.

Be that as it may, the Vikings had legitimate concerns about each of their three QB’s on the roster in 2017, and without bringing emotion into the equation (HA I’M A FAN SHUT UP TED) bringing in Cousins while not busting the salary cap was the right call. I’m not trying to bash any of these guys, because I would have been on board bringing any one (or two) of the three back. I’m a fan of all three players, and I hope they all have great careers when it’s all said and done. But each quarterback in question has significant questions, ones the team couldn’t satisfactorily answer to continue on with them.

For Bridgwater and Bradford, it was health questions. For all their intangibles or physical ability, it doesn’t do the team any good if they can’t play. For Keenum, it was the proverbial ‘lightning in a bottle’ question—was 2017 the real Case Keenum, or was his entire career leading up to last season the real Case Keenum? And the Vikings have been there before, and chose poorly. The Vikings kept Randall Cunningham after his lightning in a bottle season of 1998, traded former starter Brad Johnson, and the position was thrown in to turmoil. And other than a few years of Daunte Culpepper (who they selected in the first round of the 1999 draft using the pick they got in the…wait for it…Brad Johnson trade to…wait for it, because this is good…the Washington Redskins), the position has been one of turmoil since basically Fran Tarkenton retired, give or take a season here and there.

Sell: Cousins is the be all, end all savior. Is it The Super Bowl Or Bust now? Based on last season, and what they’ve done to address issues in free agency so far, yeah I think so. How Cousins plays will go a long way in determining whether or not the Vikings get there, but it’s not all him, though, just as it wasn’t all on Bridgewater, Keenum, or Bradford before Captain Kirk. A lot of things have to go right, all season long, for a team to get there, to include staying healthy at key spots (cough offensive line), having enough depth in the trenches (cough offensive and defensive line), avoiding devastating injuries (cough wrap Cousins in bubble wrap cough), and a little luck (cough make field goals from 27 yards out cough).

Buy: The NFC North runs through Minnesota. I’m really growing tired of the ‘Aaron Rodgers is back so Minnesota’s time is up’ argument. Last year proved that Rodgers has propped up an otherwise mediocre roster for years, and his injury laid that bare. Look, he’s a first ballot hall of famer, and with him playing the Packers are always a significant threat, but they still have issues on defense and particularly at cornerback, their running game is literally middle of the road with no ‘go to’ guy, their top returning WR (Davante Adams) has suffered two frightening concussions, and Rodgers’ favorite target (Jordy Nelson) is no longer on the Packers. People conveniently forget that the Vikings have beaten the Packers four of the last five games, with three of those games started by Rodgers. Okay one was the ‘Rodgers walks into A. Barr game’, but my point is Aaron Rodgers aside, the Green Bay Packers are looking up at the Vikings, in terms of the standings and in overall talent on the roster. And Jimmy Graham and Muhammad WIlkerson signings aside, they haven’t done enough to close the gap.

Sell: The NFC runs through Minnesota. If you ask me to rank the Vikings in the NFC today, I’d put them third behind Philadelphia and Los Angeles, with New Orleans, Carolina, and a healthy Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay all in the mix. The Vikings have a tough schedule, and will probably open up at Philly when the schedules come out. That game will really set the tone moving forward, and will be an early bellweather to how the Vikings stack up. I think the NFC is going to be another dogfight in 2018, and the Vikings will be one of the top dogs.

On paper they have enough to win it all. But yeah, they don’t play the games on paper, do they?