The 2 Moves to Easily Eliminate All The Vikings’ Salary Cap Debt

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The decision to move on from Eric Kendricks was simply the first of many difficult decisions that await Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. The young executive acknowledged the difficulty of the move, noting that #54 leaves behind “a powerful, permanent legacy within our organization and the Minnesota community.”

Indeed, Kendricks will be missed. At his peak, he was among the game’s most impactful players and in contention for its best middle linebacker.

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) and linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) and linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) react after New York Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios (10) drops a touchdown pass late during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

While the decision to move on from Kendricks was very difficult, there are 2 moves that don’t seem nearly as daunting. Extending T.J. Hockenson and then restructuring Brian O’Neill seems like a no-brainer, at least from the outside looking in. After all, those 2 maneuvers could clear up all of the Vikings’ salary cap debt.

Clearing The Vikings’ Salary Cap Debt

First, the finances.

According to Over the Cap, the Vikings are a hair below $15.8 million in the red. Seeing as how the new league year begins in just over a week, the Vikings still have some work to do. They need to be cap compliant in time for March 15. How will they get there?

Well, the aforementioned moves for Hockenson and O’Neill make a ton of sense. Check it out:

PlayerPotential SavingsCurrent Debt
Hockenson, T.J.$6,599,200
O’Neill, Brian $10,065,000

Saving (roughly) $16.66 million not only fully overcomes the nearly $15.8 million in debt but also gives Adofo-Mensah a touch less than a million in his purple pocket. Not bad, especially since the moves keep both players in a purple uniform.

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

From there, any other moves are for pure cap room. A Kirk Cousins extensions that clears $10 million? Great, that’s money for the offensive line. Another $5-$15 million from cuts? Take that space and put it toward equipping Brian Flores with some better weapons on defense.

Perhaps the best part of the proposed salary cap path is that it doesn’t involve saying goodbye to any players. Instead, it keeps one player in town for longer than just his current 1-year – Hockenson – while re-committing to O’Neill long-term at RT.

The main downside with this approach is that it makes the dead money charges for the right tackle more robust if, say, the team decided to cut O’Neill going into 2025 or 2026 (his deal expires following the 2026 season). The achilles injury toward the end of the year may be the main reason for uncertainty with restructuring O’Neill. Adofo-Mensah and the team’s medical staff will need to do their due diligence.

When healthy, he’s a top OT in the NFL. He finished 7th overall in the PFF rankings for tackles. Somehow, he’s still only 27.

What Could a T.J. Hockenson Contract Extension Look Like?
Feb 4, 2023; Paradise, NV, USA; NFC tight end T.J. Hockenson of the Minnesota Vikings (87) during practice at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

With Hockenson, the rationale is quite simple. Unless we’ve all been horribly misinformed, the plan all along has been to extend Hockenson. After all, why send those strong draft picks to a division rival if the plan was only to have the TE for less than 2 seasons? That’s an approach that would make no sense.

Instead, the plan is almost certainly for the Vikings to have the former top-10 pick in a purple uniform for several seasons. His current deal comes with a cap hit that flirts with $10 million, so extending – and lowering that 2023 number – makes an awful lot of sense. The former Lion had 60 catches, 519 yards, and 3 TDs for the Vikings last season.

By pulling off these 2 moves, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could get the Vikings under the cap. Better yet, he’d have done so without subtracting any talent.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.