Is The Hitman Careening Toward his Final Stretch of Vikings Football?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Something’s gotta give. At nearly $20 million in 2024, The Hitman is very unlikely to return to the Minnesota Vikings.

True, he’s an all-time great for this proud franchise, but Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is still working through his competitive rebuild. That means moving on from older, expensive veterans — Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Cook, Dalvin Tomlinson — in favor of youthful reinforcements.

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.

At the present moment, Smith is scheduled to have a $19,215,882 cap charge next year. There’s simply no chance Minnesota pays that full amount, especially since a simple cut would liberate a bit below $11.4 million in cap space.

On February 2nd, Harrison Smith will hit his 35th birthday. In football, being into the mid-30s is borderline ancient. Partner the advancing age with the major cap hit and things are looking uncertain for Smith’s ability to stick around Minnesota.

The Hitman and The End in Minnesota

Looking for job security? Don’t get into the NFL.

Football is a cruel busines. Money is given top priority in every major decision. Eventually, younger and cheaper options will win out.

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) tries to avoid a sack by Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Basically anyone watching Minnesota in 2023 has been thrilled to see Smith back to his usually versatile self. After all, Smith’s defining characteristic for much of his career has been his elite versatility. Just as the queen can move all over the chess board, so too can Smith move all over the defense. Just think back to those tremendous Mike Zimmer defenses and remember all the ways Zim used #22 to create headaches for the offense.

He’s sitting on 73 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFLs, and 3 FFs in 2023. Smith has also been a frequent blitzer, seeing his name called 56 times to get into the backfield. Last season, Smith only blitzed 9 times, so he’s being far more aggressive than in 2022.

Take a peak at how Brian Flores has decided to deploy his veteran defender:

  • DL: 125 Snaps
  • Box: 271 Snaps
  • Slot: 112 Snaps
  • Wide: 27 Snaps
  • Deep: 254 Snaps

Now, it’s worth noting that Flores demonstrates an unusual degree of commitment to his safeties. He tasks Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus, and Harrison Smith with doing a tremendous amount of work. Not just safeties, those three need to be linebackers and corners with great regularity.

A Flores safety won’t get too far if he isn’t capable of lining up in multiple spots. Smith certainly fits the bill.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores watches his team play against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Working against Smith is the presence of so much safety talent in Minnesota. True, Lewis Cine is looking more and more like a bust since he’s been unable to carve out a meaningful role with the defense. Even without Cine, though, there is ample talent at the position.

At 25 apiece, Bynum and Metellus are the present and the future at safety for the Vikings. Jay Ward has been (mostly) impressive on special teams while Theo Jackson has earned enough trust from the coaching staff to get rolled into the game plan on various occasions. Can the team really justify retaining Smith since there’s so much talent already present? Don’t forget that there will be more pressing financial needs elsewhere.

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) intercepts a pass during the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Harrison Smith is the longest-tenured Viking, joining the team as a 1st-round selection back in the 2012 NFL Draft. In 2012, Barack Obama was still in the White House (Joe Biden was the VP), The Artist won Best Picture at the Oscars, and Snapchat was less than a year old. Oh, and Kirk Cousins looked like a long-term backup to Robert Griffin III.

In other words, Smith has been in the NFL for a long time. Let’s see if the player and team can arrive at a mutually beneficial middle ground that will allow them to keep their relationship going for a little while longer.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and 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.