The NFL Teams in Cap Peril and The Vikings’ Shot at Trading for Talent

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The fine folks at Over the Cap are projecting that eight teams are venturing in 2024 with negative cap space. Kicking things over to “effective cap space” grows that list to eleven teams with negative money (in a sense).

Should the Vikings be paying attention to the widespread cap peril in the NFL?

Around the NFL, general managers are going to be pursuing all kinds of strategies to become cap compliant in time for the new league year. Cuts are the most obvious solution when it comes to freeing up money, but there will be extensions, restructures, and mutually-agreed-upon pay cuts. The trade, though far less common, can similarly open up precious room in the budget.

The Vikings’ Trade Shot and The NFL Teams in Cap Peril

When a team’s contention window approaches its final breath, the league’s trade vultures will start circling.

The tactic is common in the NHL. Hockey contracts are, for the most part, guaranteed. There are occasional buyouts and some teams circumvent the cap by placing players on the long-term injured reserve (which opens cap space in the NHL), but GMs often pull off a swap to inject more financial freedom into their lives. Should the NFL be taking notice?

Jan 12, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; Minnesota Wild right wing Ryan Reaves (75) skates with the puck defended by New York Islanders defenseman Sebastian Aho (25) during the third period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

To a certain extent, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah already has.

Signing Alexander Mattison to an extension last offseason meant that the time was nigh for Dalvin Cook. Minnesota was interested in trading their well-paid, talented runner to accomplish a pair of goals: get more cap space while recouping an asset in the process. In the end, no trade suitor emerged so the team simply opted for a Cook cut.

In other words, Minnesota has been on the other side of the equation, looking to offload a veteran via trade as a means of enhancing the purple budget. Don’t be surprised to see them at least make a few phone calls to teams in dire financial straits. Put differently, the Vikings could be in the opposite situation from the previous offseason, onboarding a veteran rather than offloading one.

Dalvin Cook and DeAndre Hopkins
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (4) looks on during warmups before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings’ offseason is almost certainly going to arrive by Monday, January 8th. The GM will thus shift his focus toward building a juggernaut for the 2024 season, the year that has long been earmarked as a critical turning point from the Rick Spielman era to the Kwesi Adofo-Mensah era.

Does gauging trade interest from the league’s cap catastrophes make sense? Consider, for instance, Adofo-Mensah’s former employer: the Cleveland Browns.

For reasons that are still unclear, the Browns gave Deshaun Watson an insanely large deal. The quarterback, who is injured and seeing Joe Flacco put together some marvellous football, is scheduled to have a cap charge a touch below $64 million in 2024 (that’s not a typo). The current best guess on OTC is that Cleveland will be roughly $12.7 million over the cap and that’s with just 45 players accounted for in the budget.

Dec 17, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) gets face masked by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Justin Houston (50) during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

No doubt: the Browns are going to need to make some very difficult decisions with their roster, so maybe a call to an old friend — Minnesota’s current GM — would be in order. Joel Bitonio has been an All Pro from 2018-22 (AP2 three times, AP1 twice). He’d be an expensive add, especially as an older player, but he would represent quite the upgrade at the unfilled LG spot in 2024.

And then one thinks of the New Orleans Saints and their projected deficit of somewhere between $76-$86 million (depending on whether you’re looking at cap space or effective cap space). The decision makers have done all they can to keep pushing money into future years so that they could stumble and bumble to a .500 record and next to no shot at genuinely competing for a Super Bowl in 2023. Is it time to finally wake up and get the finances in order?

Nov 5, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) passes the ball against the Chicago Bears during the second half at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Someone like Payton Turner would fit the Kwesi M.O. perfectly. The 25-year-old edge rusher was an opening-round selection in 2021 but has so far had a modest career (injuries have been a major hurdle). He plays a premium position and it’s a spot where Minnesota is staring down some huge turnover. He stands at 6’6″ and weighs 270 pounds, the kind of size teams covet in their edge rushers (which is to say nothing of his elite 9.74 RAS Score).

Trading him would free up more close to $2.4 million in cap space. Not a game changer, but the Saints will need to scrape and claw to get back into financial health.

NFL: Preseason-Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints
Aug 27, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) hands the ball off to running back Dameon Pierce (31) against New Orleans Saints defensive end Payton Turner (98) during the first half at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Other notable situations are the Bills’ $43 million deficit, the Dolphins’ near $41 million deficit, and the Chargers’ near $35 million deficit.

Since taking over as the Vikings’ GM, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has pulled off 19 trades. Generally speaking, those trades have arrived around the NFL Draft, the end of the preseason, and the trade deadline. So, jumping into the trade mix in March would represent a departure from recent history. Keep an eye on how things proceed, though. The young executive has never been shy about making bold decisions and is sitting on nine draft picks.

Currently, the Vikings are projected to have $37.3 million in 2024.

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.