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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Harrison Smith contract extension is business as usual for Vikings

By Judd Zulgad

In an offseason that has lacked drama, Vikings fans who felt the need to be preoccupied with some worry elected to focus on Harrison Smith’s contract situation.

The Pro Bowl safety, a first-round pick by Minnesota in 2012, was set to play out his fifth-year option in 2016. “When is Smith going to be signed to an extension?” was a frequent question.

Those who have followed the Vikings for several years had this quick response: “Don’t worry about it. Odds are Smith will get his extension early in training camp.”

Turns out, we didn’t have to wait that long.

On Monday morning, the Vikings announced that the 27-year-old Smith had signed a five-year contract extension that will be worth up to $51.25 million and includes a $10 million signing bonus.

That will make Smith the NFL’s highest-paid safety, moving him past Seattle’s Earl Thomas. Thomas is collecting $10 million per season and Smith will be at $10.25 million. The extension is tacked onto this season, meaning Smith is under contract through 2021.

While this was welcome news for Vikings fans, it should have come as no surprise that Smith’s deal got done so quietly.

If the Vikings have been consistent about one thing since Zygi Wilf bought the franchise in 2005, it has been locking up talented players who have been developed by the organization.

Smith, in fact, becomes the fifth member of the Vikings’ 2012 draft class to be re-signed. That list includes tight end Rhett Ellison, wide receiver Jarius Wright, kicker Blair Walsh and linebacker Audie Cole.

Other members of what has become a long list of players who have been rewarded include defensive end Everson Griffen, tight end Kyle Rudolph and guard Brandon Fusco and, of course, running back Adrian Peterson.

What makes this strategy even more effective is the fact the Vikings appear to have the right front-office structure in place to make the best decisions possible.

Under the regime of then-vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and head coach Brad Childress, it was the latter who had control of the 53-man roster and thus was the de facto general manager.

This was less than ideal because it’s nearly impossible for a coach, holding personnel responsibilities, to be able to really think long term since immediate wins and losses are the most important thing to continued employment.

When Childress was fired, and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was promoted to head coach, Frazier and Spielman shared decision-making for one season. That’s a bad idea because, in the end, someone has to make a final call.

Spielman was promoted to the general manager’s job after a 3-13 finish in 2011 and two years later Frazier was fired and replaced by Mike Zimmer.

This will be Zimmer’s third season in Minnesota and the team is coming off a season in which it improved from 7-9 in 2014 to 11-5 and NFC North champions in 2015.

Spielman makes the final call on the 53-man roster, but with plenty of input from Zimmer. What’s important is that Zimmer has no interest in being a GM, meaning that in the back-stabbing world of the NFL, he is no threat to his boss and, instead, serves as an ally.

The other name you don’t hear much in this mix is that of Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings long-time executive vice president of football operations. Brzezinski has been with the organization since 1999 and is one of the best in the NFL at managing the salary cap. Even with the Smith signing, the Vikings are about $5.3 million under the cap for the coming season.

Spielman’s philosophy, and it’s a smart one, is to retain his own up-and-coming players and to attempt to sign free agents coming out of their first contracts to multiyear deals. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, a 2010 second-round pick of the New York Giants, is an example of this.

Spielman and Brzezinski will need to make more in-house decisions in the coming months. Left tackle Matt Kalil, who will make $11.1 million on his fifth-year option in 2016, will need to either be extended or could walk away in free agency next March. Given Kalil’s injury problems, and his up-and-down performance, that’s not going to be an easy call to make.

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who almost certainly will be retained at a high price, and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who needs to prove he can stay on the field, are a season away from playing on their fifth-year options. Linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, both first-round picks in 2014, both will have two years left on their contracts (including the fifth-year option) after this one.

The fact that Bridgewater remains on his first contract gives the Vikings a big advantage because they aren’t yet paying him the type of money most starting quarterbacks get these days. His base salary for 2016 will be only a little more than $1 million and his cap hit will be $1.9 million.

Of course, the Vikings will pay running back Adrian Peterson a base salary of $7.75 million this year and his cap hit will be $12 million. Peterson’s base salary for 2017 is then scheduled to go up to $11.75 million with an outrageous cap hit of $18 million.

Peterson might return to the Vikings in 2017 – he will be 32 at that time – but it won’t be for those salary figures. It’s isn’t that the Vikings won’t be investing the money Peterson would be owed, it’s that they will be investing much of it in a younger player such as Rhodes.

That’s how this franchise does business, and it’s why no one should have been surprised that Smith was retained for the long term on Monday.

The post Zulgad: Harrison Smith contract extension is business as usual for Vikings appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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