The Minnesota Vikings normally do not use the franchise tag, so it came as a surprise on Monday when NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that they are tagging safety Anthony Harris. But with limited cap space, can they go into 2020 spending in the range of $22 million on two safeties? What are their other options? Let’s have a look…
The Vikings have a tendency to sign players to contract extensions that have very reasonable cap hits in the first year. For example, they signed Anthony Barr last year to a five-year deal worth $67 million but his 2019 cap hit was only $5.6 million. With some players likely to come off the books down the road and the extremely high likelihood of a 17-game season boosting the salary cap in the near future, a similar structure to Barr’s deal would be manageable for Harris. Barr’s cap hits go like this: $5.6 in 2019, $12.7 in 2020, $15.5 in 2021, $15.6 in 2022, $18.1 in 2023. Of course it’s highly unlikely that he ever sees the 2023 mark.
The franchise tag tender for Anthony Harris is $11.441 million, per source. Vikings are spending big on two safeties between Harris and Harrison Smith's $10.75 million cap hit in 2020.
— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) March 16, 2020
The Houston Texans franchise tagged Jadeveon Clowney last offseason and traded him to the Seattle Seahawks. The haul wasn’t that impressive but they got something for nothing because Clowney was planning to sit out. In the Vikings’ case, it’s hard to say whether Harris would hold out without a new deal (the CBA just made it more advantageous), though we can say that it would be very difficult for the Vikings to afford him with around $24 million in cap space after Kirk Cousins’s new deal is factored in (via OverTheCap). They still need two cornerbacks, a defensive tackle and possibly have interest in bringing back Everson Griffen. So a trade might be inevitable.
The Vikings certainly couldn’t expect to get top dollar back on the market but Harris has a very impressive resume. He led the NFL in interceptions last year and ranked as one of the top safeties in the league by Pro Football Focus. Whichever team dealt for him would be receiving a big boost. Even if the haul ends up being a second or third-round pick, the Vikings need all the draft capital that they can get their hands on.
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It sounds crazy because he’s a borderline Hall of Famer but trading Harrison Smith would save the Vikings more than $8 million in cap and likely bring back a first-round pick in return. He is still playing like a superstar (ranking third in the NFL by PFF last year), so his value would be extremely high to an AFC contender.
While trading Smith would certainly make life tougher on the Vikings defense, Harris is three years younger and it’s hard to say how much longer Smith will be an elite player.
Moving him would allow the Vikings to either extend Harris or play him on the franchise tag and possibly draft a safety in the first or second round to take over his spot.
— PFF (@PFF) March 16, 2020