Examining How the Vikings Can Create Cap Space Going into 2024

Syndication: The Post-Crescent

Safe to say the GM constantly has one foot in the present moment while having the other firmly in the future. He’ll be spending no shortage of time thinking about how the Vikings can maximize their financial resources in 2024 and beyond (alongside no shortage of help from cap wizard Rob Brzezinski).

The NFL salary cap is a tricky monster, one that hovers over any roster construction conversation. And yet it’s also something that’s fairly easy to manipulate since NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed in the same way as other professional sports. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will thus be thinking long and hard about creating more cap room for his team once the calendar flips over.

The NFL Salary Cap Will Jump to a Record-High in 2023
Jul 27, 2022; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Of course, what happens during the current season has the potential to have a dramatic impact on next year’s budget. If a miracle occurs and Josh Dobbs leads the Vikings to a Super Bowl, will Adofo-Mensah simply let him walk in free agency? If K.J. Osborn morphs into a borderline WR1 going forward, can the Vikings afford to move on? And what of D.J. Wonnum? Hitting 10 sacks isn’t out of the realm of possibility for the pass rusher, so one wonders if the Vikings will look to keep him around.

The point, folks, is simply that both team achievement(s) alongside individual player performance are going to be critical bits of info for the GM who loves to gather evidence, data points, and facts.

How the Vikings Can Create More Cap Space in 2024

Sitting on a bit below $52 million in projected cap space (per Over the Cap), the Vikings have great potential to push their cap room much higher.

How about a Justin Jefferson extension?

Despite the insane amount that was said from the player, the head coach, the GM, and the ownership, the Vikings’ WR1 didn’t get a deal done last offseason. If anything, his bargaining position is a touch weaker since he has been on the IR for a little while and the team has been winning. Regardless, Jefferson will be a top priority. He’s going to secure a massive new contract.

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) stiff arms Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis III (24) in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The 5th-year option insists that Jefferson will count for nearly $19.75 million against next year’s cap. Extending him has the capacity to liberate almost $15 million in cap space.

One also thinks of Harrison Phillips as a sneaky extension candidate. Few, if any, defensive lineman are having as much fun playing football as Horrible Harry. He has been thriving in the Brian Flores defense, doing far more than just soaking up blocks as a monster in the middle. Instead, he has been a force who can be found getting penetration in short-yardage situations while delighting in his proclivity for getting the offensive line to pick up false start penalties.

He’ll go into 2024 on the final year of the 3-year, $19.5 million pact he originally agreed to in 2022. The nearly $9 million cap charge in 2024 is a decent amount, so it’s something the Vikings’ front office is going to discuss. A simple cut frees up $6.5 million but an extension could kick another $4.3 million in Minnesota’s direction.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) reacts after making a stop in the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Unless something unforeseen happens, Harrison Smith is staring down a roster cut. The 34-year-old safety is scheduled to come with a cap charge exceeding $19.2 million. Moving on by cutting the veteran would free up close to $11.4 million.

Minnesota has a pile of depth at safety, so one wonders if The Hitman can stick around. From our current vantage point, the likeliest options look like either a sizable pay reduction or a cut for the defender who will one day see his jersey number retired in Minnesota.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 9, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) celebrates a sack during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Dean Lowry is supposed to carry a $4.6 million cap charge into next year but the Vikings will be reluctant to pay that amount. He, too, is someone who may need to consider a pay reduction (like Chris Reed and Jordan Hicks in the most recent offseason).

Of course, there are all kinds of money saving moves the Vikings can (and will) explore. The options are too vast and numerous to explore in a single piece, which is to say nothing of how unpredictable Kwesi can be. Even the most informed Vikings analysts could track down what they believe to be the various options and still walk away surprised by what the young GM decides on doing.

Just think of four very plausible moves, though: a Justin Jefferson extension, Harrison Phillips extension, Harrison Smith cut, and Dean Lowry cut. Those moves alone have the capacity to free up more than $30 million in added cap space. Tossing that amount onto the current total means the Vikings will have all kinds of options when it comes to landing top-tier free agents.

The Vikings — and their fans — are staring down a very eventful offseason.

In the meantime, buckle up and enjoy the ride. Kevin O’Connell is preparing his team to head into Mile High to take on Sean Payton’s Broncos. Snagging a victory would mean Minnesota finds itself at 7-4. The GM will be watching.

Editor’s Note: Information from Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.