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Why the Vikings may not need to free up cap space

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Divisional Round - Minnesota Vikings v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Since the end of the 2019 season there have been rumors and ideas that the Minnesota Vikings could be looking to trade Stefon Diggs in a move to free up salary cap space as well as allow Diggs to move somewhere he may be happier. The offseason rumor mill is heating up with reports that Diggs may not be completely happy in Minnesota and in filling his role in the offense, leading fans of other teams to begin to wonder what it might take in trade in order to secure the services of Diggs moving forward. Fans of the Seattle Seahawks are no different, and the idea of course has been thrown around on the internet and social media.

Here on Field Gulls, the conversation in Century Links on Friday even took a turn in looking at a trade scenario proposed in an article on Seahawks Draft Blog that would land Diggs in Seattle and free up the cap space Minnesota needs for the upcoming season. The driving factor behind much of the trade talk is that, “The options for the Vikings are painful cuts, gutting the roster or accepting the situation and being smart.”

The issue is, that the Viking may not need to make any moves at all in order to free up cap space to come into compliance with the 2020 salary cap. How is that possible when every major salary cap data outlet has them at $11M or $12M over the cap for next season? The simple answer is that one of their players who is currently under contract for 2020, and who is noted as one of the potential individuals the team could include in a trade, Everson Griffen, has a player option in his contract that he can excercise until February 25 that allows him to void his contract.

From former agent Joel Corry on Twitter:

So, it’s entirely possible that at some point in the next ten days Griffen could void his contract, which would accelerate the termination of the contract from March 2023 up to March 18, 2020 and create $13.1M of cap space for next season. That would put the Vikings in compliance with the cap for the upcoming season, and would allow the team to then proceed to continue to create more cap space through restructures and extensions.

Why would Griffen opt out of his contract, though? Because he currently has zero guaranteed money left on his contract, and at 32 years of age won’t likely get another opportunity to cash in as a free agent. There’s no question that Jadeveon Clowney will become a free agent and is projected to sign one of the largest contracts ever for a defensive player, but most of the other high caliber pass rushers are expected to be franchise tagged, which could create a very favorable opportunity for Griffen to clean up the scraps that are left.

While many will certainly question what Griffen could earn in free agency, it’s not hard to imagine him getting paid. Ziggy Ansah was able to get $8.531M coming off a 2018 lost to injury just five months after the surgical rebuild of his shoulder. Justin Houston landed $23M over two years, including $15M guaranteed with the Indianapolis Colts coming off a less productive 2018 than Griffen’s 2019 season. Both Ansah and Houston were younger than Griffen is set to be, but Cam Jordan and the New Orleans Saints signed a three-year, $52M contract extension that covered Jordan’s age 32, 33 and 34 seasons, and Griffen will be 32 for most of the 2020 season. Brandon Graham of the Philadelphia Eagles signed a three-year, $40M contract last spring that covered his age 31, 32, and 33 seasons. Cameron Wake signed a three-year, $23M contract that included more than $10M in guarantees, with the Tennessee Titans heading into his age 37 season.

So, while Griffen wouldn’t be in contention with Clowney in the market for a contract that exceeds $20M annually, it’s not difficult to envision him landing a deal that goes for three or four years and averages $12M to $14M, with $15M to $20M of that amount guaranteed. For a player who is unquestionably closer to the end of his career than the beginning, the ability to add that much in guarantees could be extremely attractive. That, and some gentle nudging from the Vikings about the potential for Griffen to be a cap casualty if he doesn’t opt out, certainly combine to create a situation in which it would seem likely he isn’t with the Vikings in 2020.

With that being the case, the Vikings would have zero need to trade Diggs. They could, certainly, do so for the right compensation, but the compensation for a soon to be 27 year old wide receiver about to enter his prime and on a cost controlled contract would be enormous. The number of teams that would be in on the bidding for those services would probably be all 31 of them, and that could quickly drive the price up. If he’s traded Diggs’ cap hits for the next four years would be a combined $47.5M, which is an average annual cap hit of $11.875M. That’s roughly half of what the top wide receivers are making these days.

So, if Kansas City was willing to trade a first and a second for the right to give Frank Clark $20.8M per year over five years, I have a hard time imagining Andy Reid passing up the opportunity to send a first and a second and then some to Minnesota. They would move on from Sammy Watkins and his $21M 2020 cap hit as fast as humanly possible, and it would be Diggs, Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman tearing up the AFC West for the foreseeable future.

Just to add more on top of this, the NFL’s trade deadline passed on October 29 at 4 pm, and teams aren’t allowed to make trades until after 4 pm on March 18. That is key, because teams must be under the salary cap prior to 4 pm on March 18. Basically, teams have to be under the cap before they are allowed to start making trades, meaning they aren’t able to use trades to actually get under the cap. Teams will certainly use trades to create additional cap room between now and March 18, but those trades will not be processed and that cap room will not be created until after the deadline for cap compliance has already passed.

In short, Seahawks fans can feel free to dream about the Vikings trading Diggs, but the likelihood of that actually happening are very slim. Especially in any trade with terms resembling the ideas that have been publicly proposed. For now, all fans can do is wait until the 25th to find out if Griffen opts to void his contract, because until that variable is determined, the Vikings aren’t likely to be doing much of anything.