Vikings

Projecting A Christian Darrisaw Extension

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

With Justin Jefferson extended, the Minnesota Vikings’ cap aficionados have likely turned their attention to extending Christian Darrisaw. The team’s star left tackle is the other offensive cornerstone as they move into the J.J. McCarthy era. Based on his high level of play, asking whether or not Darrisaw should be extended seems like a waste of time because the answer is obviously yes. The more interesting questions are when will Darrisaw be extended and how much will he get when he is?

the tricky nature of timing extensions

For all of their resources, NFL front offices cannot focus on every aspect of their team at once. They might be able to complete a minor at any time, but signing a contract of this magnitude requires buy-in from the GM and coaching staff, and the ownership group. The ownership group also likely needs to liquidate assets to put the guaranteed portion into escrow. While the Wilfs have the money to pay Darrisaw, they don’t necessarily have tens of millions of dollars lying around ready to be spent in an instant. They also just spent a ton of guaranteed money in free agency and on Jefferson, so it may be difficult to stomach putting even more money in escrow so quickly.

The level of effort that goes into large contract extensions is why you generally see them signed in two windows — after the draft, like Jefferson’s deal, or during training camp, like T.J. Hockenson last year. The time between OTAs and the start of training camp is when NFL personnel get a break from the grind and spend about a month taking vacations and generally having a lighter workload as they prepare for the grind of the season. Therefore, a deal like this would not get done in the current dead period.

It’s important to remember that teams and players have different incentives when it comes to signing contracts. For teams, it generally behooves them to sign players as early as possible. If a player has proven themselves the way Darrisaw has, they almost certainly end up worth the contract they get if they sign early. An extension adds years to an existing deal rather than replacing them.

If Darrisaw were to sign a four-year extension this year, he would be under contract through 2029. If he signs a four-year extension next year, he’s still under contract until 2029. Players who sign always look to increase the top of the market, so waiting gives more opportunity for the ceiling to be pushed up. Waiting a year also means a cap increase, which means a team needs to pay more to hit a certain percentage of the cap on a deal.

From a player’s perspective, it makes sense to wait until he’s in the last year of his deal to agree to an extension. Barring a career-altering injury, a player rarely loses value over one season. Look at Justin Jefferson, who missed most of last year but still got a market-changing extension. Or Dak Prescott, who severely broke his ankle on the franchise tag and still got a big deal. Or, most dramatically, Kirk Cousins, who tore his Achilles and still got $45 million a year with $100 million fully guaranteed. Even though Darrisaw has dealt with injuries throughout his career, it’s unlikely that waiting will negatively impact his value.

That push-and-pull is why extensions historically haven’t been completed until the last year of the player’s deal, which in Darrisaw’s case is next offseason. Still, this year appears to have bucked that trend a little bit, with DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and Penei Sewell agreeing to deals. Andrew Thomas also bucked that trend by signing a deal last offseason, so there is precedent for Darrisaw to agree to a deal.

There are also reasons to wait. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Tristan Wirfs the year before Darrisaw, and he seems poised to get a market-setting deal. The Los Angeles Chargers drafted Rashawn Slater before Darrisaw in 2021, and he could also sign. If those players get big deals, they could easily boost Darrisaw’s price tag.

Agent preference also plays a role in the timing of when deals get done. Drew Rosenhaus represents Darrisaw, but all of the other players listed above have different agents. Derrick Brown and D.J. Moore are the only two recent first-rounders that Rosenhaus represented in an extension, and they signed after their fourth season.

Given that, it seems unlikely that a Darrisaw extension will be completed this offseason. The Vikings should certainly push to get a contract inked because it would eventually save them money, but it’s not likely to work out that way. That’s not a reason for panic or concern about Minnesota’s intentions to sign him; it’s just the reality of the business.

What will Darrisaw Eventually Get paid?

As I mentioned above, Darrisaw’s pay will depend on the year he signs. Therefore, I’ll look at two projections: one for this year and one for an extension next offseason.

Penei Sewell is the top player on the offensive tackle market, having signed a $28 million per year extension this offseason. Laremy Tunsil reset the LT market by signing a $25 million per year extension in 2023. While LTs have historically been considered more valuable than RTs, that standard hasn’t held true from a contract perspective; Lane Johnson signed a record extension in 2019, and now Sewell. Therefore, it makes the most sense to treat OTs as one position and use Sewell as the standard.

There’s a status difference between Sewell and Darrisaw. Sewell is considered the elite of the elite and has been recognized as such with two Pro Bowls and a First-Team All-Pro last year. While Darrisaw is undoubtedly a high-level player, he has never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. It’s unlikely he’s considered in the same tier as Sewell in league circles. That’s not a slight on Darrisaw, in the same way that considering Justin Jefferson in a different tier is not a slight on Amon-Ra St. Brown.

St. Brown got the same AAV as Tyreek Hill, who had previously set the WR market. That could indicate that Darrisaw will get the same average annual value as Tunsil, who compares to Hill as an elite veteran. However, that ignores that Hill’s average is inflated by a phony final year, while Tunsil’s contract is not.

Therefore, Andrew Thomas is probably the most logical comparison. Like Darrisaw, Thomas is considered a high-level player but has no postseason recognition to show for it. Like Darrisaw, injuries have affected Thomas’ playing time. Therefore, I’ll use Thomas’ five-year, $117.5 million deal as the basis for my Darrisaw contract projection.

If we take the $23.5 million per year that Thomas got and extrapolate it to the 2024 cap environment, we get roughly $26.7 million. Let’s round that down to $26.5 million, which is also conveniently the midpoint between Sewell and Tunsil. Four-year deals seem to be the trend for players, so let’s make Darrisaw’s deal four years, $105 million total.

The next question is guarantee structure. Only the very best players like Jefferson get full guarantees beyond the first year of the deal, so let’s mirror Sewell instead. Here’s Sewell’s contract on Over the Cap. He got a $15 million signing bonus with full guarantees in 2024 and 2025, including a $25 million option bonus in 2025. He also has a full functional guarantee for 2026 (in his $19.9 million salary) and a little over $12.1 million of his $23.9 million salary in 2027, functionally guaranteed. The rest of that 2027 salary also gets guaranteed when the league year starts, so it counts towards his $83 million guaranteed.

I’ll use a similar structure for Darrisaw. The extension will include the money he’s already owed, so he will get $123,516,929 in cash across the six years of the contract, and the Vikings will owe $125,283,501 against the cap due in that time to dead signing bonus money from his rookie deal which hits in 2024. I copy/pasted Sewell’s signing bonus structure, which seems reasonable to me.

I did yearly salary increases, with per-game roster bonuses and workout bonuses to match what Jefferson got. The functional guarantees would be for Darrisaw’s full salary in 2026 and half of the salary in 2027. There would be a potential out in 2027 before the last of his guarantees, the rest of his 2027 salary, kicks in.

Here’s what the deal looks like with cap hits and cash payouts included:

From that, Darrisaw’s full guarantees are $43 million, which is just barely higher than Sewell’s, and his functional guarantees are about $77.5 million, which lags slightly behind Sewell’s $83 million. He’d get a little less money over the life of the contract, but this would be a strong deal for Darrisaw.

If the Vikings extend Darrisaw in 2025, Tristan Wirfs will have gotten paid at that point, and his deal would be likely to eclipse $30 million after extrapolating Sewell’s contract. That would leave space for Darrisaw to eclipse Sewell. Based on extrapolating Thomas’ contract to the projected $284 million cap in 2025, that would put Darrisaw at about $29 million per year, which would make it a four-year, $116 million deal. If you include his already picked-up fifth-year option, that would put the total value of the deal at $132 million over five years.

In this case, the Vikings would have to pump the cash they are paying Darrisaw in the later years of the deal up because they didn’t get the opportunity to spread the hit across one extra year. I also had to increase his signing bonus to make the numbers work out to be relatively even. In the first projection, the void year just served to pro-rate salary if the Vikings wanted to convert it, but it absorbs some of the option bonus hit here. I also had to create a rolling guarantee for 2028, although in my projection, that won’t vest until 2028, so it isn’t really guaranteed at all.

My full projection includes over $88.5 million “guaranteed,” with $53 million fully guaranteed and about $75 million functionally guaranteed. This would currently be the strongest OT contract on the market, but I expect it to look reasonable after the Wilfs sign.

Conclusion

If you look at the projections, it’s clear that the Vikings should move to sign Darrisaw this offseason. It will save them money overall and increase cap flexibility with the ability to spread the hit out over one extra year of the deal. With the team currently $26 million under the cap, extending Darrisaw would help them access that cap space and create future flexibility. Using future cap space is a negative interest loan, but you should still spend to the cap each year because rolled-over cap space is devalued by the same principle.

The projections also clearly show that Darrisaw should wait until next year to sign an extension if he’s willing to take the risk. If he waits until 2025, he will almost certainly earn more money with more guarantees in the same timeframe.

Considering those factors, it’s likely the deal won’t get done until 2025. Darrisaw doesn’t have an incentive to sign the deal or force Minnesota’s hand by holding out, and the Vikings can’t force Darrisaw to sign a contract he doesn’t want to. Unless the Vikings make an offer that blows Darrisaw’s camp away, we shouldn’t expect him to sign this offseason. Given that Drew Rosenhaus has seen it all and is known for driving hard bargains, I doubt we’ll see the extension this year.

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