Do the Vikings Have One More Free-Agent Splash Left In Them?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In less than two weeks, NFL front offices will have the opportunity to add extra flexibility to their salary-cap situations by cutting and/or trading players and spreading their dead money out over two years. What makes June 1 such a noteworthy day on the NFL calendar is that a majority of NFL players have their contracts set up so that their teams will save additional cap space by releasing or trading them on or after that particular day.

For example, the Minnesota Vikings could clear $2.7 million in cap space by spreading out the remaining $1.5 million of C.J. Ham‘s dead cap across two years for $750,000 in 2022 and 2023. Had the Vikings decided to cut ties with Ham before June 1, the team only would’ve saved $1.95 million with a $1.5 million dead cap in 2022.

And although the Duluth, Minn. native has become a fan favorite over the years, there are valid questions about the importance of his role in Kevin O’Connell‘s offense for the Vikings. After all, the Los Angeles Rams have never had a fullback on their 53-man roster since Sean McVay took over in 2017. And fellow McVay disciples Matt LaFleur in Green Bay and Zac Taylor in Cincinnati have combined for one fullback on their 53-man rosters over the past three years — Danny Vitale with the Packers in 2019.

Suffice it to say, the fullback is quite literally nonexistent in McVay’s and his minions’ scheme. Even in 2019 when LaFleur broke the mold by rostering a fullback, Vitale only played in 17% of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive snaps. For context, Ham has played 35%, 40%, and 33% of Minnesota’s offensive snaps for Mike Zimmer and his carousel of offensive coordinators from 2019-21.

As it stands now, Ham has a larger cap hit in 2022 ($3.45 million) than edge rusher Za’Darius Smith ($3.43 million) and Patrick Peterson ($3.13 million).

Could O’Connell zig when McVay and the rest of his former Rams assistants zag as it pertains to the fullback position? Absolutely. But even if Ham maintains the same snap count from last season, does it make financial sense for the sake of the team by having the 13th-highest cap hit on the roster standing on the sidelines for approximately 67% of its offensive plays? That’s a question for another day.

At the moment, the Vikings have $10.3 million in cap space, according to Spotrac. And should Kwesi Adofo-Mensah deem it necessary to free up additional space for a free agent that could have a larger role on gamedays, there are still a handful of options available on the market.

The Vikings could reunite free-agent Odell Beckham Jr. with O’Connell after winning a Lombardi Trophy with the former Rams offensive coordinator just three months ago. However, the receiver likely won’t be seeing the field until at least November as he recovers from the torn ACL he suffered in the Super Bowl.

J.C. Tretter could provide the Vikings with much-needed competition at center. And considering that Garrett Bradbury has consistently been one of the worst starting centers in the league, it might be time to see if the whispers of Tretter’s injury woes are much ado about nothing. But considering the lack of interest on the open market for him thus far, where there’s smoke there could be fire.

While either player would make for a buzz-worthy signing, there’s another guy available who could be an early-summer cannonball of an addition.

Free-agent defensive end and former No.1 pick in 2014 Jadeveon Clowney remains unsigned after spending last season on a one-year deal with the Cleveland Browns. Since turning into a bit of a mercenary lately by playing for three different teams in as many years after leaving the Texans in 2018, Clowney is coming off his best season since his Houston days. Playing in 14 games, Clowney had nine sacks in 14 games while racking up 53 pressures on 422 pass-rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

During the final two seasons of Mike Pettine’s stint as the defensive coordinator in 2019 and 2020, the Packers unleashed a three-headed monster of edge rushers in Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Rashan Gary. And considering that Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith have combined to play in just 24 out of 66 possible regular-season games since 2020, the Vikings could not only add another potential game-wrecker to their defensive front, but Clowney could provide a high-end insurance policy for Minnesota’s oft-injured pass rushers.

Clowney was also graded as a reliable run defender last season by PFF, with more stops (tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense) and a higher stop-rate (the percentage of player’s run defense snaps where he was responsible for a stop) than All-Pro teammate Myles Garrett.

If the Vikings are serious about contending in 2022, they need all the help they can get defensively — especially up front. And when you look around the rest of the NFC and see teams like Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Green Bay, and Dallas win by leaning on their dominant defensive fronts, you can never have too many dudes in the trenches.

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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