The clock is ticking for the Minnesota Vikings to get out of salary cap hell.
Minnesota, the fifth-most cap-strung team in the NFL, is currently $16 million over the 2022 salary cap, per OverTheCap. The most pressing pending decision approaching the start of the league year and opening of free agency on March 16 is whether the Vikings can lower Kirk Cousins‘ weight on the team’s books for 2022.
Cousins is due $45 million in 2022, the third-highest cap hit of any player in the league. NFL insider Jordan Schultz reported on February 18 that Cousins has no interest in taking a pay cut, leaving Minnesota with the options of reaching a contract extension or trading the veteran quarterback if the Vikings do not want him at $45 million this season.
If Minnesota cannot mitigate Cousins’ cap hit in the coming weeks, cuts could be elsewhere.
Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport detailed some of the most surprising cuts that could come in the NFL this offseason, naming Harrison Smith as a potential cap casualty if the Vikings don’t improve their cap situation soon.
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B/R: Smith is a Potential Cap Casualty
Davenport, speculating that if Minnesota cannot adjust either Cousins or Danielle Hunter‘s contracts for the upcoming season, may be forced to cut Smith.
Releasing Smith would be an unceremonious end to the Minnesota career of one of the best safeties in franchise history. But it also can’t be ruled out.
As with many of the teams in this piece, the Vikings have significant work to do where the salary cap is concerned—the team is just over $16 million in the red. Releasing Smith (and designating him a post-June 1 cut) would get the team about two-thirds of the way there. Smith is signed all the way through 2025, but given his age, the odds he’s ever going to sniff the end of that deal are remote.
If given the choice, the Vikings would no doubt prefer to clear cap space by restructuring the contracts of players like quarterback Kirk Cousins and edge-rusher Danielle Hunter. Both players carry a 2022 cap number north of $25 million.
But if it reaches the point where heads have to roll, the team is much more likely to part ways with a safety nearing the end of the line than an elite pass-rushing talent or its starting quarterback.
While Cousins’ contract offers little flexibility, there is a likely chance the Vikings can restructure Hunter’s deal.
This season, Hunter has an $18 million roster that can be converted to a signing bonus and stretched across the final four years of his contract. If that’s done, Hunter’s cap hit goes from $26.1 million to just $12.6 million, offloading $13.5 million on the upcoming season’s books.
There are small trims Minnesota can also make, but if they genuinely want to be players in free agency, Smith’s contract would be the next bloated deal on the chopping block.
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Spielman Left Vikings With ‘Absurd’ Contract
Speaking on the Sportrac podcast,, ESPN’s Courtney Cronin raised the red flags surrounding Smith’s four-year, $64 million contract extension he received last offseason. He’s due $13.5 million in 2022.
“They gave him an absurd contract,” Cronin said. “A contract that kind of screamed like a dying person giving away their possessions when Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman paid it forward with the loyalty aspect of Harrison Smith last year. He’s got a huge cap hit in 2022.
“If I’m walking in here as a GM and I see Harrison Smith is on the roster and has a $13.5 million cap hit next year. I’m probably saying, ‘Thank you for your service. We appreciate all you’ve done here since he was drafted in 2011.’ They have to move on. They absolutely have to start trimming parts of this roster and have to make really hard calls here defensively because there’s so many staples of your franchise that you might be moving on from.”
Smith’s cap hits only get worse as the 33-year-old safety inches closer to retirement, averaging the second-highest average annual salary of $16 million at his position.
To Smith’s credit, he is coming off his sixth Pro Bowl mention last season and hasn’t shown signs of regression yet. However, Minnesota’s hand may be forced if the front office can’t create ample cap space by other means.