The Vikings Can Eliminate Their Salary Cap Debt with 1 Move

The Vikings Can Eliminate Their Salary Cap Debt with 1 Move
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O'Neill (75) and Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary (52) in action at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have done a lot of work over the past few days to get closer to becoming salary cap compliant ahead of free agency’s start next Wednesday. These moves have included releasing beloved players Eric Kendricks and Adam Thielen as well as an unexpected release of CB Cameron Dantzler.

In doing so, the Vikings currently sit around $7 million over the salary cap, being one of eight teams that remain over the cap heading into the final days before free agency begins. This $7 million is mere pennies when considering the Vikings began the offseason around $25 million over the cap.

With this reality, the Vikings can eliminate their remaining salary cap debt by making a single move. That move revolves around veteran right tackle Brian O’Neill, but no, this won’t be the latest cut of a star player.

Questions Answered: The O'Neill Bad News, Vikings Top Need This Offseason, Chris Reed
Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) readies at the line of scrimmage in the third quarter during an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. The Bears defeated the Vikings 33-27. (AP Photo/David Berding)

Considering O’Neill just got a new contract with the Vikings two years ago, and he remains one of the better right tackles in the entire NFL, cutting him without a true replacement option would be silly.

Instead, the Vikings should go about restructuring his contract for 2023. Per Over the Cap, the Vikings sit precisely $7,436,216 over the cap heading into the weekend. They also suggest that a Brian O’Neill restructure would save the Vikings $10,065,000 in 2023. This not only completely eliminates any remaining debt, but it also would put Minnesota $2,974,372 in the green heading into free agency.

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

The only potential downside to a restructure like the one laid out here is that, while it lowers O’Neill’s cap hit in 2023 from $19.6 million to $9.2 million, by nature, it pushes more of his cap hit into future years of his contract through 2026. Currently, here is what O’Neill’s cap hits are set to look like from 2024-2026:

  • 2024: $19,689,111
  • 2025: $22,689,114
  • 2026: $19,873,892

And here is what they would look like with the aforementioned restructure:

  • 2024: $23,169,111
  • 2025: $26,169,114
  • 2026: $23,353,892

$23+ million certainly is a pretty penny for a right tackle, but here’s why ultimately, this shouldn’t concern too many fans. The Vikings have done an outstanding job of freeing up cap space in future years. Currently, with a projected salary cap of $256 million for 2024, Over the Cap has the Vikings sitting with a ridiculous $120 million in cap space for that season.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings full back C.J. Ham (30) reacts to scoring a touchdown along with Minnesota Vikings tackle Brian O’Neill (75) during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, some of that cap will go to Justin Jefferson’s fifth-year option, which will be worth $19.7 million in 2024. That brings the Vikings down to $100 million, and more will go to free agents as well as draft picks and other potential contract extensions (Ezra Cleveland, T.J. Hockenson) from both this year and next year.

However, all things considered, the Vikings should have plenty of space to fit in an extra $3.5 million from an O’Neill restructure. Considering how much Minnesota can save right now, and that they seem to have planned ahead for pushing some money into the future, this is a no-brainer.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.