Salary cap constraints are likely to transform the Minnesota Vikings‘ roster substantially in 2023, but that doesn’t just mean subtraction. It means addition, too.
One place the Vikings may look to add is to their wide receiver room, especially if Adam Thielen becomes a luxury the team can no longer afford. The list of free agent names at the position isn’t going to blow Minnesota away, but there are a handful of reasonable options.
Chief among them is JuJu Smith-Schuster, no pun intended. The wideout bounced back in his first campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs this season, pulling down 78 catches for 933 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games played, per Pro Football Reference. He also made two catches for 29 yards in the Chiefs’ 27-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game in Kansas City on Saturday, January 21.
Smith-Schuster, who played his first five years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2018. However, he appeared in just five contests in 2021 and produced career-lows of 15 catches, 129 yards and zero touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster Fits Alongside Justin Jefferson as Vikings’ No. 2 WR
Smith-Schuster signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Chiefs, which included $3.76 million in guarantees and $4.5 million in incentives. While the former second-round pick didn’t set the world on fire in Kansas City this season, he did cement his value as a top-two or top-three target for most NFL receiving corps.
Spotrac projects Smith-Schuster’s market value at approximately $14.6 million annually over a four-year deal, totaling a full contract value just shy of $59 million. That is a high number for Smith-Schuster, though salaries for wideouts are pushing higher and faster than almost any other position in the NFL.
Davante Adams signed a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders that pays him $28 million annually, while Tyreek Hill signed an extension with the Miami Dolphins worth $30 million per year. Vikings superstar Justin Jefferson is expected to exceed Hill’s number with an extension this offseason, which makes the idea of paying $14-$15 million annually for a No. 2 option like Smith-Schuster seem a bit more reasonable.
Smith-Schuster’s negotiating leverage is also likely to be helped by a lack of high-end receiver options in free agency. Other notable names include Odell Beckham Jr., who didn’t play at all in 2022 after tearing his ACL, D.J. Chark Jr. of the Detroit Lions and Mecole Hardamn, Smith-Schuster’s teammate in Kansas City.
Adam Thielen Getting Pricey For Vikings as Contract Progresses
If the Vikings do, in fact, part ways with Thielen, it will be important to bring in another weapon alongside Jefferson.
The 26-year-old Smith-Schuster is younger than Thielen by six years and figures to be cheaper regardless of any deal he might agree to with the Vikings. Thielen carries a salary cap number of nearly $20 million next season, which will jump to $21.6 million in 2024 before his contract expires. Minnesota, meanwhile, needs to cut more than $24.5 million from its roster budget, per the most recent numbers from Over The Cap.
Cutting Thielen would save the Vikings nearly $6.5 million, though they would take a dead cap hit of more than $13.5 million. However, Minnesota could also look to trade the receiver and bring back assets in return.
Whatever the Vikings decide to do in terms of addition or subtraction, expect Minnesota’s math to come fast and furious when free agency opens on March 15.