We take our first look at the NFC North contracts with the Minnesota Vikings
Best Contract: John Sullivan
Though he does not have the name recognition of Ryan Kalil, Alex Mack, or Maurkice Pouncey, John Sullivan is every bit as good if not better than the biggest name (and highest paid) Centers in the NFL. Sullivan is an all around player. He helps open those holes for the running game led by Adrian Peterson and is making the important decisions on the line in front of a very suspect group of quarterbacks that last year included Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, and Josh Freeman.
The Vikings wisely locked Sullivan up in 2011 when he still had one season remaining on his rookie contract rather than allowing him to test free agency in 2012. The Center market had become somewhat overpaid with the emergence of Nick Mangold and Kalil following the wild $37.5 million dollar contract the Rams gave Jason Brown in 2009. Despite the top end prices the Vikings were able to lock Sullivan up at $4.9 million a season, around a 40% discount from the top of the market. The Vikings decision would look even better in light of more expensive contracts given to Chris Myers and Max Unger, both very good players, which may have represented what the market would have been for Sullivan had he hit free agency.
The money saved on Sullivan has allowed the Vikings to overpay to retain the services of Peterson and other players on the team. Sullivan’s cap hits will never crack top 5 in a single season and for the next few years he will be around the 8th or 9th highest cap charge at the position which is a tremendous bargain. The contract was also structured to protect the team’s salary cap in the event his play declines as he reached 30. The Vikings cost to cut in 2015, when he will be 30, is only $1 million and the 2016 season contains no dead money. It gives them flexibility to cut or to extend without having to worry about adding money on top of sunk costs built into the contract. Every team would be happy to have a player and contract like this one on their team.
Worst Contract: Greg Jennings
There were more than a few choices to sort through in Minnesota, but at the end of the day I felt it had to come down to a choice between Greg Jennings and Everson Griffen. It was a tough decision as both leave the Vikings with potential difficult situations with the salary cap and both were overpayments for players, with Griffen’s deal being a complete misreading of the landscape, but Griffen has real upside while Jennings had , at best, minimal upside.
In a year where teams were throwing money wildly at wide receivers, the 30 year old Jennings was getting minimal interest in free agency. His former team, the Green Bay Packers, had decided to move on and it seemed most around the league were wary of his contract demands, which they should have been.
Jennings was slowly seeing his numbers erode in Green Bay as he struggled with injuries. In 2011 he dropped below 1,000 yards, missed three games due to an MCL injury, and his yards per catch was at its lowest since his rookie season. In 2012 he only appeared in 8 games due to injuries and looked like a shell of a player. A body breaking down should have been a warning sign to any team in the NFL and at the very least been addressed in a contract. The Vikings did neither.
Minnesota threw Jennings $17.8 million fully guaranteed, $10 million of which came in the form of a signing bonus. His contract averaged $9 million a season which was more than was given to younger and bigger upside players such as Antonio Brown, Victor Cruz, and Pierre Garcon. In 2014 Brandon Marshall, a far superior receiver in the same age bracket who showed no signs of breaking down, received $10 million a year with about $15 million guaranteed and a minimal signing bonus.
Jennings was more or less a non-factor in 2013 averaging around 12 yards per catch and producing about 800 yards on the year. The s Vikings structured the contract such that in 2015 he’ll either be on the team at an $11 million cap charge or cost the team $6 million in dead money. Those kind of numbers never should have happened for a player like Jennings.
2013’s Best and Worst Vikings Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: John Sullivan (Starting Center; See above)
2013 Worst Contract: John Carlson (Released; Signed with Cardinals)