Two items matter in an NFL contract — the guaranteed money for the player and the cap hit in a given season for the team.
The Minnesota Vikings enter an offseason that will be stuffed with change, chiefly because its most expensive players are elder statesmen and will be targeted for contractual restructuring, trade, or outright release.
The 10 Most Expensive Vikings Entering the Offseason
While these monetary will change substantially — and some of the players won’t be with the franchise in September — these are the most expensive Vikings per 2023 cap hit as of January 28th (ranked in ascending order of amount).
10. Dalvin Tomlinson (DT)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $7.5 million
Tomlinson’s dead cap hit of $7.5 million remains on the books until the summer, no matter what. If the Vikings waited until after June 1st to release him, they’d incur $2.5 million in dead cap while saving $5 million in 2023. The problem is, of course, roster building occurs before June 1st.
The soon-to-be 29-year-old is arguably the most consistent player on the Vikings. He doesn’t have bad games, nor is he elite-elite. He’s just a damn good football player.
Prediction for Contract = Extended by one or two years
9. T.J. Hockenson (TE)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $9.3 million
Hockenson arrived to the Vikings at the start of November — and made them his own. Vikings fans wondered just what in the hell they’d do without Hockenson as early as his first game versus the Commanders.
The ex-Lion will likely remain with the Vikings for the next 4-6 years.
Prediction for Contract = A large extension incoming this offseason
8. Eric Kendricks (LB)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $11.4 million
Like various Vikings veterans, Kendricks appeared to “slow down” in 2022, at least compared to his performance of yesteryear. Kendricks was absolutely fantastic in 2019, but he is not the same player.
This is the closest to a no-brainer on the table for this exercise. Releasing Kendricks will free up $9.5 million while incurring just $1.93 in dead cap funds to the Vikings books.
Prediction for Contract = Released
7. Danielle Hunter (OLB)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $13.1 million
Hunter adapted well to the 3-4 system after a few games. Don’t let anyone on the internet — mainly social media — tell you any different. However, he may be at wit’s end for bowing to Minnesota’s team-friendly deals. Hunter may want a payday that the Vikings are hesitant to deliver. Keep that in mind in case of Hunter-related trade talks — also remember that a Hunter trade leaves the Vikings pretty upside-down financially.
Every year there is “some sort of something” to watch with Hunter’s contract — a byproduct of the team-friendly deal he signed with ex-GM Rick Spielman.
Prediction for Contract = Extended by a year or two
6. Dalvin Cook (RB)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $14.0 million
Cook lives in a Vikings offense managed by a general manager who probably doesn’t fancy paying running backs the big bucks. Well, Cooks earns the big bucks, especially for a running back.
The longtime Viking created some tremendous moments and game-changing plays in 2022, but his run in Minnesota is likely to end. He can be released for a cap penalty of $3.1 million after June 1st, saving Kwesi Adofo-Mensah $11 million.
Prediction for Contract = Released or traded
5. Za’Darius Smith (OLB)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $15.5 million
Smith was a tyrant — in a good way — to start the 2022 campaign. He recorded 8.5 sacks through Week 9, on pace for a ferocious figure of 16. But he finished the season with a whimper after injuries seemed to set in, tabulating only 0.5 sacks after the win over the Buffalo Bills.
The Vikings structured his deal in an advantageous-for-the-team way for this very reason. Releasing Smith before free agency would save $12.1 million, with a $3.3 million dead cap.
Prediction for Contract = Released
4. Harrison Smith (SS)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $19.1 million
Let’s face it — this Smith isn’t the force fans experienced from 2012 to 2019 (or so), but he hasn’t hit a total wall. He’s just not the All-Pro Harrison Smith anymore.
Yet, he is the longest-tenured Viking after Kyle Rudolph and Everson Griffen departed in the last couple of years.
Prediction for Contract = Restructured
3. Brian O’Neill (RT)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $19.6 million
O’Neill need not worry about any trade, release, or paycut. If anything, Minnesota may move money toward the back of his deal.
But no O’Neill news will rock the boat in 2023. He’ll focus on his recovery from a partially-torn Achilles’ and hope he’s the same player that netted the big contract from 2018-2022.
Prediction for Contract = Nothing.
2. Adam Thielen (WR)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $19.9 million
Probably the most “painful” one on the list, Thielen is compensated like a wide receiver who records about 1,200 yards and 8 touchdowns per season. He doesn’t do that anymore, at least not in the Vikings 2022 offense.
Thielen still believes he can play — age 32 (33 in August) poppycock be damned.
The dream scenario would be for Thielen to remain with the team while producing a resurgent season in 2023. Those are hopeful maybes, though.
Prediction for Contract = Traded (perhaps in the summer).
1. Kirk Cousins (QB)
Schedule 2023 Cap Hit = $36.2 million
The trickiest of them all — why? Well, no one can know for sure how the Vikings brass feels about Cousins’ “throwing short of the sticks” ordeal with the game on the line in the playoffs. It could be the final straw for Adofo-Mensah, pivoting to an “all right, who’s my next guy?” mindset.
Or — Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell could remain convinced that a team can be built around Cousins. After all, his yearly production of 4,000+ passing yards and 30+ like clockwork is what NFL executives crave.
If Cousins is traded — the only viable method to part ways with the man because of all the guaranteed money — he’d have to consent. Cousins has a no-trade clause, thanks to the 2022 extension.
Minnesota will likely roll with Cousins in 2023.
Prediction for Contract = Current contract stays as-is; no extension in 2023
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).
All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.