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Have the Vikings Over-Invested in their Defense

The strength of the Minnesota Vikings is their defense – and this has been very much by design.

While Rick Spielman, the general manager of the Vikings since 2012, must have consummated most of these contracts, assembling a powerhouse defense appears to be largely the strategy of head coach Mike Zimmer. You might recognize the name Spielman, who formerly worked for ESPN on NFL Live. He is also the older brother of Chris Spielman, a former linebacker for the Detroit Lions.

During the offseason, Minnesota spent over $178 million on contract extensions – in the span of 10 days – to lock up these defensive standouts:

  • Defensive end Everson Griffen – 4 years, $58M, $14.5M average
  • Cornerback Xavier Rhodes – 5 years, $70.1M, $14.02M average
  • Defensive tackle Linval Joseph – 4 years, $50.4M, $12.6M average

These three players were ranked in Sports Illustrated’s Top 400 NFL players’ list as follows: 172nd, 87th, and 96th, respectively.

They join an impressive group of defenders who were already contracted, including:

  • Strong safety Harrison Smith – 5 years (2017-21), $10.25M average
  • Safety Andrew Sendejo – 4 years (2016-19), $4M average
  • Cornerback Trae Waynes – 4 years (2015-18), $3.24M average (with a 5th year option)
  • Outside linebacker Anthony Barr – 4 years, $12.74M, $3.19M average (with a 5th year option)
  • Linebacker Erik Kendricks – 4 years, (2015-18), $1.29M average – up-and-coming
  • Cornerback Mackensie Alexander – 4 years (2016-19), $1.08M – average
  • Defensive end Danielle Hunter – 4 years (2015-18), $742,430 – average

Of this group, Smith ranked 40th in SI’s player ratings, Barr was 121st, Hunter was 192nd, Kendricks was 246th, and Sendejo was 263rd. The top six Vikings on SI’s list were all defensive players.

By comparison, the Green Bay defensive players among that Top 400 were: Mike Daniels (58), Clay Matthews (154), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (180), Morgan Burnett (200), and Nick Perry (226).

The Minnesota defense includes a bevy of first-round draft choices: Harrison Smith (2012), Xavier Rhodes (2013), Anthony Barr (2014, 9th overall), and Trae Waynes (2015, 11th overall). The Vikings finally eased up on drafting defenders in 2016 and 2017. The only defensive player picked before the fourth round was cornerback Alexander, a second-round choice in 2016.

Of these other highly-touted players, those on the bargain rack include: Griffen, who went in round four in 2010, and Sendejo, who went undrafted that same year.

The team’s only whiff was defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, a round one pick in 2013, who hasn’t started a game since 2015, and whose knee injury of early 2016 might be career-ending.

One reason the Vikings are loaded on defense is that they enjoyed two first-round choices in 2012, three in 2013, and two again in 2014.

Minnesota appears to be copying the blueprint of the Seahawks, whose all-star defense dominated the league for about four years running – but is now breaking up due both to aging and being too costly to keep.

Despite all the hullabaloo, so far in 2017 the Vikings defense only ranks seventh in yards given up per game, at 309.2. Seattle has fallen to 17th. The NFL leaders are all AFC teams: Denver, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. The top NFC teams are: Carolina (4th), Chicago (6th), and, in a cluster, Washington (9th), Atlanta (10th), and Green Bay (11th).

Has Minnesota Over-Invested?

All NFL general managers and owners must strike a balance on how to allocate their limited dollars. Even with a salary cap of almost $170 million, they can afford only a couple of superstars and a handful of stars, or there won’t be enough money left over for decent players at the non-skills positions.

I’d have to delve into Minnesota’s situation more thoroughly, but it appears that the Viking have gone overboard in acquiring their defensive talent. In situations such as theirs, it’s often the case that one or several of a team’s biggest talents ends up having to be let go before they are well past their prime – based mostly on finances.

Going just by cap hit totals, as opposed to contract averages, of the Vikings players who have the top 18 cap hits, eleven are defensive players. Those not already mentioned include: defensive end Brian Robison ($5M cap hit), cornerback Terence Newman ($3.58M), linebacker Emmanuel Lamur ($2.75M), and defensive tackle Tom Johnson ($2.375M).

Wait until the contracts run out on receiver Stefon Diggs ($672,000 cap hit), receiver Adam Thielen ($3.75 cap hit), and the like. All teams face such problems, as will Green Bay when Davante Adams’ current deal ends in a few months ($1.25 cap hit). But Minnesota, by inking those three stratospheric extension deals in 2017, soon won’t be able to bankroll all the high-paying stars they’ve accumulated.

So, I’m willing to concede the Vikings have a lot of stars, primarily defensive ones. The problem is: they have too many of them, and this house of cards is soon going to come falling down in the next year or two – just like it has in Seattle.

Based just on team defensive statistics, however, Minnesota’s defense appears at the moment to be no more formidable than that of the Bengals or Bears.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Empacador October 13, 2017

    Stand by in 3..2..1..

    1. Ferris October 13, 2017

      I can’t believe we have not had detonation yet. Don’t worry it’s coming.

      1. Empacador October 13, 2017

        Amen brother, amen. With a side of Clay Mathews alleged PED abuse thrown in for good measure.

        1. Cheese October 13, 2017

          I’ll be waiting here with my popcorn..

          1. PF4L October 14, 2017


  2. TyKo Steamboat October 13, 2017

    Griffen, Rhodes, Joseph, Smith & Barr are all really good players whom are playing up to their pay. Rankings are all fickle except for Pro Football Focus’ statistical rankings

  3. TyKo Steamboat October 14, 2017

    Oh BTW, Rob… you forgot to add 1st round draft picks DaTone Jones & Shariff Floyd to the list too ….

  4. PF4L October 14, 2017

    Good article Rob.

    But were missing one thing, the #1 most important defensive stat, the stat that really matters. Scoring defense.
    Although i don’t discount total yards given up, it takes a back seat to points given up. It should be noted, that a team who gives up yards on defense, is usually described as a “bend but don’t break” defense. I despise that term as it has been mostly coined by teams with average to below average defenses.

    When examining scoring defenses. Seattle is not as lethal as they were a few years back, but at 17.4 ppg, they are currently 5th in the league. which is lower than the queens 18.6 ppg. The Bears are currently 24th with 24.8 ppg. Although the bears only yield 305 ypg. Bend but don’t break.

    Now, as this relates to the Packers, if the Packers could get to under 20 ppg, then i would be highly impressed. But until then, we still are a bend but don’t break defense. Currently the Packers are 20th in scoring defense at 24.2, a decrease of 1.8 ppg over last season.

    The offense usually is in the top tier, scoring at a rate of 27.4 ppg. But that really isn’t our usual problem.

    1. PF4L October 14, 2017

      Check that….the Packers are at 22.4 ppg this season, last season was 24.2 ppg.

  5. KILLER October 14, 2017

    Hahaha, Rob you are a very funny guy. Have you done stand up before?

    “I’m willing to concede the Vikings have a lot of stars, primarily defensive ones. The problem is: they have too many of them”

    That is some funny stuff, Rob!

  6. KILLER October 14, 2017

    As usual, I’ll need to correct some (but not all — I have a busy day) of Rob’s errors:

    1. Rob seems to try to throw some shade on Rock Spielman “who formerly worked for ESPN on NFL Live”. I think that is what he is doing as otherwise those nuggets sure are irrelevant (but, then again, they still are). Wow, if that is the worst criticism you can come up with on a guy then that guy must be a great person who is really excellent at their job. That is already ineffectual/goofy by Rob but it gets quite funny when later on he moans and whines “One reason the Vikings are loaded on defense is that they enjoyed two first-round choices in 2012, three in 2013, and two again in 2014”. This is the usual Packerbacker mentality of robbing credit. Trying to make it seem like MN just won the draft lottery by random chance.

    2012, we got a second 1st rounder via SPIELMAN trading back up into the end of RD1 for Harrison Smith. Fantastic move… by that commentator on NFL Live!

    2013, we got one extra first round pick by SPIELMAN brilliantly trading Percy Harvin for a 1st rounder, 3rd rounder, and a bag of chips. While the bag of chips did not pan out, that 1st rounder became Xavier Rhodes and the 3rd rounder Jerick “Jet” McKinnon. Fantastic move… by that commentator on NFL Live!

    2014, we got an extra first round pick via SPIELMAN trading up into the end of round one. With the pick he obtained Teddy Bridgewater, a steal until his terrible injury. Fantastic move… by that commentator on NFL Live!

    2. Rob even went so far in his hypocrisy to cast shade on the number of high picks the Vikings obtained — remember, high picks are GOOD, Rob — and also cast shade on how few of the defenders were low picks !!! But lower picks were given up to obtain higher picks and the higher picks took roster spots lower, lesser-performing picks, may otherwise have occupied!

    Also false that only Everson Griffen and Sendejo are on the bargain list. Tom Johnson was a steal as an FA signing, an undrafted back-up in NO who was seen for his potential (by SPIELMAN) and developed into a very good player. Daneille Hunter picked in round 3 was a pick others criticized. At the time I argued Hunter was actually a first round value. 6 sacks in his rookie year and 12.5 sacks last year in a time share. Only two sacks so far this year but he has dominated vs. the run and put on lot of pressure. He is, so far, literally on track for a Hall of Fame career. Getting a Hall of Famer level player in the third round (and it was very late in that round as well) = F*cking steal!

    3. The Sports Illustrated ranking have been debunked. No one with football acumen relies on them.

    1. Deepsky October 14, 2017

      I stopped reading this after the comment that drafting Bridgewater was a fantastic move.

      1. Ferris October 14, 2017

        You stopped wayyyyy too late. You stop when you read the K in his name.

        1. PF4L October 14, 2017

          So many stars, no Championships. Starting 5-0 with all these “STARS”, you’d think would land a team in the playoffs…lol. Not these clowns.

          1. PF4L October 14, 2017

            Lonely boy…

            Teddy Bridgewater was a 1st round steal? Lets see…2 seasons, 87 passer rating. A total of (lmao)28 td vs 21 interceptions (pathetic for a starting NFL QB). A mind boggling grand total of 6,150 yards. Last 21 games…unavailable. WHAT A STEAL!!

            Teddy could be traded for an assistant grounds crew guy and a water boy.

            The vikings are NOT done!!!!! <——-this, will never get old. lol

            This season is entertaining…Thank you

    2. Ferris October 14, 2017

      Something about how every Viking player was a draft steal, what a genius someone is and, we this and we that, we ,we ,we. I didn’t see anything about Superbowl wins.

      1. PF4L October 14, 2017

        …and you won’t, unless he’s talking about the Packers. Plus, i think a team has to get in the playoffs in order to win a Super Bowl. Not sure, i’ll have to research that.

  7. Deepsky October 14, 2017

    Historically great defenses are short lived. They are great because they have several great players and no weaknesses. Teams try to lock up these players to retain the great defense but it doesn’t work.

    Pretty quickly a couple of these players get injured. Offenses then attack the holes. The defense becomes only good but now the team is stuck with a ton of high salaries.

    Pay the great QB instead of the great defensive players and the team will be successful for 20 years.

  8. Big B October 18, 2017

    I’d rather have Spielman than TT.