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Brian O’Neill contract extension continues unconventional trend for Minnesota Vikings

You may have heard, the Minnesota Vikings re-signed starting right tackle Brian O’Neill to a five-year, $92 million contract extension. For some, paying a right tackle as if he protects the blindside of Kirk Cousins can be seen as questionable.

On the surface, it seems like a big surprise out of left field, handing out nearly $100 million just days before they open their season against Cincinnati. Though, for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, this is nothing new. 

The Vikings have a history of locking in members of their core just before the season begins. It’s the same concept the Steelers are working tirelessly toward with T.J. Watt. Should O’Neill be the second-highest-paid right tackle in the NFL? That’s a different story, but for the Vikings, O’Neill’s their best offensive lineman and one of the most important players on the team.

Should the Minnesota Vikings keep waiting until preseason to re-sign their core?

Re-signing core players to contract extensions just before the season begins is a great move. Much better than letting them hit free agency the following year. However, is waiting until September the best course of action when trying to navigate a tight salary cap? No, absolutely not. 

Each time a star player signs a new deal, their contract usually pays them as a top-five player at their position, if not No. 1. When the Vikings wait until training camp to extend their talent, it generally costs them more than had they agreed to an extension at the beginning of the offseason. But still, much less than if they hit free agency.

By the time Harrison Smith and Brian O’Neill signed on the dotted line, three of the five-highest-paid right tackles signed extensions and two of the five-highest-paid safeties reached new deals, resetting the market.

With each contract set in stone, agents and team officials generally use the newest deals as talking points in negotiations. X player is better than Y player, so X should get paid more.

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After signing extensions, O’Neill and Smith are both the second-highest-paid at their respective positions. Should Harrison Smith be paid less than Justin Simmons? Probably, but Simmons had his deal done back in March. At the time of his signing, Simmons was the highest-paid safety of all-time. By the time Smith signed his contract, the deal Jamal Adams signed already topped the one Simmons did. 

One could go to bat, arguing how important both O’Neill and Smith are to the Vikings team, but it still appears they could have gotten away with paying them a little less. If a few more bucks are the cost of doing business to take care of their own instead of losing them to another team, though, the Vikings will take that every time.

Why Rick Spielman’s bold strategy toward contract extensions makes sense

Brian O’Neill contract extension continues unconventional trend for Minnesota Vikings
Oct 18, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings strong safety Harrison Smith (22) in action during the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, waiting can be more helpful. This way, the Vikings already have their 53-man roster set. They know what the payroll looks like for the 2021 season, and can structure their extensions accordingly. Whether that means backloading a deal, or frontloading it if there is still money to spend, they know their situation better than anyone else.

The Vikings have one of the best cap analysts in football in Rob Brzezinski, Spielman’s right-hand man. I won’t sit here for a second acting like I can navigate the cap better than anyone working in football.

The Vikings may prefer waiting to re-sign their core, who knows whether it costs them much more in the end. What really matters is they keep putting talented football players on the field. Keeping Brian O’Neill and Harrison Smith in Minnesota for the foreseeable future does that, even if it may cost the team a few more dollars at the end of the day.

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