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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Will any Vikings 2019 free agents bet on themselves?

By Matthew Coller

Here’s a safe bet: When Minnesota Vikings training camp opens in Eagan this summer, the team will be holding a press conference or three to announce contract extensions.

After next season, four key Vikings players are set to hit the free agent market: Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks.

That’s assuming the Vikings pick up Trae Waynes’ fifth-year option. Latavius Murray, Sheldon Richardson and Nick Easton will also become free agents.

The Vikings have been savvy enough with the cap that they can afford to keep the Big Four. They currently have around $20 million in salary and could restructure certain deals to lower cap hits such as Kyle Rudolph’s $7.6 million in 2019.

The only potential snag for keeping Diggs, Hunter Barr and Kendricks is the possibility that one or more of them could prefer to play out the 2018 season and attempt to hit free agency next season.

Of course, the Vikings could still use the franchise tag on one player if they choose.

So which player would have the best argument for betting on themselves to have a big year in 2019 and aim for a huge contract?

If Diggs has been keeping an eye on the marketplace, he has to be excited about his earning potential. Over the last two seasons, he’s caught 148 passes on 207 targets and 11 touchdowns. Last year he graded eighth by Pro Football Focus metrics.

Compare his production to Sammy Watkins, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason for $48 million over three years with $30 million guaranteed. Watkins, who missed eight games in 2016, made 67 grabs in 122 targets and caught 10 TDs over the last year seasons.

Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans agreed to a five-year, $82 million extension with the Bucs, including $55 million guaranteed. The deal made Evans the second highest paid receiver in the league.

Diggs’ catch totals aren’t quite as high as Evans, who has 167 receptions over between 2016 and 2017, but Diggs averages 8.4 yards per target, compared to Evans’ 7.5 yards per throw in his direction.

That doesn’t mean the Vikings’ star wide receiver will pull in quite the same dollar amount as Evans, but if he added another big season – especially one in which he played all 16 games – Diggs would have a hefty amount of interest from around the league.

Prices are clearly going up for receivers as Watkins and Evans rank No. 4 and No. 2 in the NFL in annual salary, respectively, and Green Bay’s Devante Adams, who signed a four-year, $58 million extension this offseason, is seventh.

If the Vikings do not offer Diggs a deal that puts him in the range of the top receivers in the NFL, there is a chance that he could opt for the market or get franchise tagged at a price in the range of $16 million.

Another factor to keep in mind: If Diggs signs a big contract to stay in Minnesota, Adam Thielen is very likely to look for a new deal as well. He is wildly underpaid at a $5 million cap hit this season.

The price to keep Danielle Hunter could be just as high as Diggs. Last year the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Calais Campbell to a contract worth $60 million over four years with $30 million and the Arizona Cardinals gave Chandler Jones $82.5 million with $53 million guaranteed.

Over the past two seasons, Hunter is 13th in the NFL in sacks, which is one ahead of L.A.’s Melvin Ingram, who inked a four-year, $64 million extension with $42 million guaranteed.

Another element to Hunter’s pending free agency is his age. He will be under 25 years old when he begins the 2019 season.

If he elected not to sign a long-term contract to stay with the Vikings and posted a double-digit sack total, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team make him one of the highest paid defensive ends in the NFL.

Barr and Kendricks have far less negotiating power due to the value of their positions. For example, recently-traded linebacker Alex Ogletree signed a four-year, $42 million deal with $19 million guaranteed last year. Ogletree and teammate Mark Barron were given similar contracts, which could be the case with Barr and Kendricks.

Jets middle linebacker Demario Davis signed in New Orleans for three years, $24 million with $16 million guaranteed after a strong 5.0 sack, 97-tackle season. The website Spotrac estimates Barr’s value to be $7.6 million per year, a manageable mark for the Vikings.

In the past, the Vikings have done a terrific job of keeping their talented players. They signed Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes to extensions at the beginning of camp last year. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them announce multiple deals at the open of camp this year. But with prices for top receiving and edge-rushing talent, Diggs and Hunter would have reason to try the market or force the Vikings to tag them, which could ultimately complicate the future of their cap situation.

The post Will any Vikings 2019 free agents bet on themselves? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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