The 3 Single Moves to Create Maximum Cap Space in Minnesota

Jul 29, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebackers Danielle Hunter (99) and Za'Darius Smith. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The upcoming moves to create cap space in Minnesota are going to be fascinating.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is venturing into his second year on the job. So far, he has shown that he isn’t shy when it comes to pulling off trades. He will lean on void years and will also move on from productive veterans (one thinks of Michael Pierce).

Mar 1, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah talks to the media during the 2022 NFL Combine. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Navigating the current challenge that is the Vikings 2023 budget will require Adofo-Mensah to lean on all kinds of tricks, manoeuvres, and solutions. As a result, we thought it best to highlight the 3 single things the GM can do to carve out cap space.

If he was constrained to just 3 moves, what could Adofo-Mensah do to give himself the most cap room possible?

Maximum Cap Space in Minnesota

For simplicity, we’re excluding the possibility of a post-June 1 cut. The reason isn’t because Kwesi Adofo-Mensah won’t consider this option. Rather, it’s because a post-June 1 cut doesn’t help with the beginning of free agency. So, keep this detail in the back of your mind.

With that said, look at the 3 single moves that can create maximum cap space in Minnesota:

PlayerRoster MovePotential Savings
Cousins, KirkExtension$23,068,000
Smith, Za’DariusCut/Trade$13,656,861
Smith, HarrisonExtension$10,908,000

As some of you know by now, I’m on the extend Kirk Cousins train. Though nearing 35, Cousins is still getting better. True, he’s unlikely to have another 5+ strong years in him, but it’s very plausible that he could be a strong QB1 for another few seasons. If that’s the case, then an extension makes sense.

Of course, very few can predict the future. The Vikings’ leadership will have to stare into their crystal ball to see how he can play. If they foresee some excellent snaps, Cousins might earn an extension that lowers his cap hit in 2023.

Vikings: Week 17
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Chatter surrounding a potential move away from Za’Darius Smith seems to be heating up. Count me among those who think it’d be misguided to move on from the vet. Far better, perhaps, would be to pursue a deal that lessens his cap impact in the current season while still keeping him in town.

Pass rushers who are capable of playing at an elite level don’t just grow on trees. The question for Smith rests in whether he can be elite for a full season rather than just a portion of it. He was excellent in the season’s opening half, earning player of the month honors for October. Unfortunately, that didn’t continue into the second half of the season. Would he fit better in a rotational role?

He played 771 snaps in 2022, the third most of his career.

Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) greets cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) after Peterson made an interception in overtime to defeat the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, there is potential to create nearly $11 million through a Harrison Smith extension. Folks, this one is very unlikely to happen.

For seemingly the first time in his career, Smith had a humdrum season. He had 85 tackles, 10 PDs, 5 INTs, 1 FF, and 1 TFL. More concerning, perhaps, are some of the coverage numbers. Nearly 80% of passes into his coverage went for completions. These catches went for an average of 11.3 yards, though he did hold QBs to a collective 73.0 passer rating.

Last offseason, Smith adjusted his deal. Would the team really go back to Smith to do so once again? Given that he’s 33, Smith is nearing the end of his career, making a sizable extension harder to justify. The option exists to work out a restructure that frees up more than $9 million in the upcoming season.

When we step back, we can see that Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings have a lot of options to carve out some room. Being nearly $25 million over next year’s projected cap makes it a necessity to get creative. As the aforementioned 3 moves demonstrate, though, it wouldn’t take too much finagling to get under the cap.

Free agency will begin on March 15. Between now and then, the Vikings will be doing an awful lot of money shuffling.

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