But after a first-round exit in the playoffs, the Vikings under Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell must forge their own path – a road that will likely require shedding the roster of its household names of the past decade.
Hockenson appears to be part of their plans.
Vikings Territory editor Sean Borman reported that the Vikings have “clear interest in extending” Hockenson, per KSTP’s Darren Wolfson.
Spotrac has predicted to garner a four-year deal worth $57.7 million, the second-largest tight-end contract in league history behind on George Kittle’s five-year, $75 million extension in 2021.
After being traded for a 2023 second- and 2024 third-round picks, Hockenson quickly became Kirk Cousins‘ second favorite target. Hockenson posted 60 receptions for 519 yards and three touchdowns in the final 10 games of the season.
The significance of striking a new deal now?
Hockenson, who enters the fifth-year option (which the Lions exercised) of his rookie contract has him on the books for a guaranteed $9.4 million.
Minnesota, currently $24.4 million over the salary cap, can lighten that number with an extension this offseason that would stretch those earnings across more years, creating up to $6.6 million in cap space, per Over The Cap.
The Vikings will need to make several cap-creating maneuvers in the coming weeks to not only get under the salary cap by March 15 but also reload a defense that could see as many as nine starters gone.
Vikings LT Brian O’Neill Could See Restructure as Well
Another veteran Vikings player who could help the team get under the salary cap is starting left tackle Brian O’Neill.
According to Over the Cap, Minnesota could create over $10 million in cap space by restructuring O’Neill’s contract — one of the largest cap-creating moves the Vikings can make this offseason.
Several veterans still need to go, but through a Hockenson extension and O’Neill restructure, Minnesota can get two-thirds of the way of being cap compliant.
Vikings Veterans on the Chopping Block
The Vikings have plenty of work to do before the free agency period opens March 15 — and ideally, they’ll have ample cap space to begin making offers for veteran free agents.
Eric Kendricks ($9.5 million in created cap space, $1.9 million in dead cap), Dalvin Cook ($5.9 million, $8.2 million dead), Jordan Hicks ($5 million, $1.5 million dead) and C.J. Ham ($3 million, $750,000 dead) are all candidates to be with pre-June 1 designations that would create immediate cap space for free agency. Za’Darius Smith also offers a significant $12.1 million in potential cap savings 50 just $3.3 million in dead cap, although he’s arguably a more valuable piece Minnesota may be less willing to part ways with (Pro Bowl pass-rushers don’t come cheap or grow on trees).
Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith are also cut candidates, although the amount of guaranteed money in their contracts would lead to sizeable dead cap hits of $13.5 million and $11.7 million, respectively. That dead cap is the result of accelerating the payout of remaining contract bonuses on the final years of their contracts.
However, cutting the two eldest veterans on the team with a post-June 1 designation would leave the Vikings on the hook for just this year’s contract bonuses. Cutting Thielen with a post-June 1 designation would create $13.4 million in cap space, while Smith would create over $15.2 million in cap space.
The dilemma is that the free-agent market is typically dried up at that point, leaving the only use for that available cap space to acquire a vaulable player in a trade.