In a league where one bad season can spell doom for a player — and performance in contract years often dictates a player’s financial future — a lot is riding on the 2018 season for a handful of Minnesota Vikings.
This year will act as a tipping point for the following five players. Let’s take a look.
There’s probably more pressure on Treadwell than any other Vikings player entering 2018. He is narrowly close to earning the ‘Bust’ label after being selected 23rd overall in 2016.
Nagging injuries, an inability to create separation and a lack of success in contested catch situations have all played into Treadwell’s disappointing first two seasons. Last season, Treadwell was 176th in quarterback rating when targeted, 141st on deep target catch rate and 173rd in yards per route run out of all receivers, according to Pro Football Focus.
It appears like he’ll be given a shot once again in 2018, but the margin for error is thinning. The Vikings will have to decide on Treadwell’s fifth-year option before the 2019 season. If he doesn’t get it, he’ll enter a contract season in an unfavorable position. Fortunately for Treadwell, the rest of his rookie contract is guaranteed, so the Vikings wouldn’t be able to shave costs by cutting ties.
The man drafted one round after Treadwell is in a similar position entering his third season. As veteran Terence Newman continues to return on one-year deals, Alexander continues to possess merely a rotational role at corner.
While he was exploited at times last season, the bottom line for Alexander was better than most thought, per Pro Football Focus. Among corners who took 25 percent of snaps, he finished with the third-lowest quarterback rating against his coverage out of the slot. Additionally, he was one of just nine corners to not allow a touchdown out of the slot.
Alexander’s future got murkier, though, when the Vikings drafted Mike Hughes in the first round, who profiles as a potential slot corner. Plus, if Minnesota extends Anthony Barr and Stefon Diggs, they’ll have 10 players on long-term deals worth eight figures per year, meaning Alexander’s future may not be in Minnesota once his rookie deal expires due to cost concerns.
Hughes’ presence gives the Vikings a cheap backup plan once Newman, and eventually Alexander, move on. That being said, Alexander could position himself to be the top 2019 nickel if he outperforms Hughes this year, and that could set him up neatly for his potentially impending free agency.
Although he took positive strides in 2017, Waynes still has to become more consistent if he wants to earn an extension. The Vikings picked up Waynes’ fifth-year option, giving the team two full seasons until their former first-round pick hits free agency.
Waynes was picked on a lot last season and surrendered the fourth-most yards in coverage. A more appropriate metric, though, might be yards per coverage snap, where he tied for 31st, per PFF — a bit more respectable.
He is definitely in a better spot than Alexander considering his fifth-year option would be worth around $9 million, but his 2018 performance may dictate whether he solidifies himself as part of Minnesota’s longer-term plan.
After signing a restricted free agent tender, Easton is currently on a one-year deal unless the Vikings work out an extension. With the flexibility to play center, mobility in the screen game and the ninth-best pass blocking efficiency rating amongst guards last season, Easton has made himself a valuable member of Minnesota’s offensive line.
It’s uncertain whether the Vikings will be able to negotiate a deal with Easton, however, until they work out bigger deals with Barr and Diggs. If Easton goes into the season without a contract, he may be looking at unrestricted free agency next March.
The Vikings drafted Brian O’Neill with their second-round pick, giving them a right tackle in waiting. Based on OTAs and mini-camp, Hill shapes up to be a likely Week 1 starter at the position, an opportunity for him to impress the Vikings before hitting restricted free agency. At that point, the Vikings will have to choose whether or not to tender Hill.
For reference, Easton and Jeremiah Sirles were both in this position last spring. Easton received a tender, while Sirles did not and moved on to Carolina.
If Hill stays healthy and plays well for 16 games, he could lock up a nice 2019 salary in Minnesota.