The Tomfoolery & Shenanigans Behind the Vikings’ 3-Year Deal with TE Josh Oliver

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on who you ask, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s decision to sign TE Josh Oliver was a misguided move or one that was sneaky smart.

The 26-year-old tight end hasn’t taken the league by storm since arriving in 2019. Instead, he has battled injury and moved from Jacksonville to Baltimore. He set career highs in 2021, but the totals were modest: 14 catches, 149 yards, and 2 TDs. Keep in mind that 7 of his catches – exactly 50% – went for first downs.

In Minnesota, the mandate will look similar to the one in Baltimore since he’s being relied on as the TE2 to a sensational TE1. With the Ravens, Oliver complemented Mark Andrews; with the Vikings, Oliver will be Robin to T.J. Hockenson’s Batman.

What’s the role worth? Well, it’s a bit complicated.

TE Josh Oliver and the 3-Year Commitment

I’ll be the first to admit I did not see the Josh Oliver deal coming. He was nowhere to be found on the Top 32 Free Agents list. Clearly, the Vikings see things a touch differently than your humble author.

in 2023 Offseason
Jul 27, 2022; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

As a starting point, consider the scheduled cap hits:

  • 2023: $2.554M
  • 2024: $6.174M
  • 2025: $9.424M
  • 2026: $2.848M

The astute reader will notice an issue. Oliver signed a 3-year deal and there are 4 cap hits above. Even more glaring, the final one is in red (an ominous sign, to be sure).

The reason, folks, is because the Vikings’ GM relief on void years when he agreed to a deal with Josh Oliver. If the deal doesn’t get adjusted at all and the TE plays for the trio of seasons he signed up for, the Vikings will take on a $2.848 million cap charge in 2026 even though he’s no longer on the roster.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah added void (fake) years in 2026 and 2027 to help lessen the sting of Oliver’s signing bonus. Spreading the bonus across five seasons rather than three makes the cap charges easier to digest in the short term.

The cap hit for the upcoming season is quite modest, accounting for just 1.2% of the overall budget. Paying that amount for someone who can (ideally) make the offense more unpredictable and balanced seems just fine.

What really stands out, of course, is the possibility of a cap charge that’s flirting with $10 million. In 2025, Oliver is scheduled to have a charge that comes in just below $9.5 million, a hefty total for someone whose specialty is clearing running lanes and not scoring huge touchdowns.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars
Nov 27, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the fourth quarter at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Keep in mind that Minnesota has built in an out at that point. Cutting the TE would allow Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to add more than $5 million back into the purple budget. Opting for a post-June 1 cut would give the Vikings $8 million in room. Moreover, there’s always the possibility of shuffling money around and/or agreeing to a new deal.

The GM, in short, will have options. Adofo-Mensah constructed a contract that leaves the team with different future paths. He has also baked some team leverage into the deal, making potential extension talks more plausible.

The initial headlines for the deal were certainly reason for some confusion. A bit of a closer look once that dust has settled reveals a contract that isn’t nearly as daunting as initially assumed.

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