Souhan: Vikings spend too much on players who give them too little

In professional sports, the differentiator between success and failure often is money.

How much you spend. Who you pay. How much you pay them. When you pay them.

Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Ravens demonstrates a vast difference in financial philosophies, one that at the moment heavily favors Baltimore.

The Vikings are paying a lot of players for what they used to do. The Ravens have yet to pay their franchise player for what he is doing.

Since the Vikings lost by 31 points in the NFC title game following the 2017 season, they are 28-27-1. They continue to pay their players as if desperate to maintain a championship nucleus.

A lot of the big contracts they have signed make sense in a vacuum. As an organizational philosophy, they are paying Bentley prices for a battered pickup truck.

The Ravens, regarded as one of the league’s best-run and best-coached teams, have taken the opposite approach. Their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, was the league MVP in 2019. He is leading the Ravens to a fourth consecutive playoff berth. He is the Ravens’ best runner as well as a still-improving passer and the team’s leader.

The Ravens have yet to sign Jackson to a contract extension. He is making $3 million this year — $30ish million less than Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The Ravens have been criticized for not financially rewarding Jackson, who is by far their best and most valuable player. Jackson has erred in representing himself in negotiations.

What the Ravens haven’t done is pay a player before they are required to, which means that if Jackson suffered a career-altering injury or his progress as a passer stalled the Ravens wouldn’t have wasted their money and salary cap space.

That’s the kind of cynical, unsentimental thinking that wins in the NFL.

Imagine if Jackson played for the Vikings. They would have already signed him to a lifetime contract and named their practice facility after him.

Not signing Jackson before they must has allowed the Ravens to spend on other positions. The next time someone blames the Vikings offensive line for Cousins’ mistakes, remember that paying your quarterback hundreds of millions of dollars means that you’re going to scrimp on other positions. Like guard.

The Vikings are paying 11 players $8 million or more this season. The rundown:

  • Brian O’Neill: He’s an excellent player, and the Vikings’ inability to develop offensive linemen handed O’Neill massive negotiating leverage. He signed a five-year, $92.5 million deal.
  • Danielle Hunter: Signed an extension for $72 million coming off a worrisome injury, and now he has suffered a season-ending injury for a second consecutive season.
  • Cousins: He’s made $162 million with the Vikings and won one playoff game.
  • Adam Thielen: Has earned his four-year, $64.2 million deal. At least when the ball gets thrown his way.
  • Harrison Smith: Signed a four-year, $64 million extension. He is not justifying it.
  • Dalvin Cook: Signed a five-year, $63 million deal. He’s an excellent back in a league that has learned, in the overwhelming majority of cases, not to pay even excellent backs.
  • Eric Kendricks: An excellent player and leader, but he is not having an impactful season. He signed a five-year, $50 million deal in a league that prefers paying defensive linemen and cornerbacks rather than interior linebackers.
  • Michael Pierce: Has been injured for most of the season. He signed a three-year, $27 million deal.
  • Dalvin Tomlinson: A disappointing free agent who signed a two-year, $21 million deal.
  • Patrick Peterson: Was playing well but, predictably for an older player, now is on injured reserve. Signed a one-year deal for $8 million.
  • Anthony Barr: The veteran linebacker might be the best example of the Vikings overspending on someone who used to be good.

They could have let Barr go to the Jets in free agency and spent the money on an offensive lineman. Instead, they signed him to a five-year, $67.5 million contract in March 2019.

This is Vikinging. They spent big on a player who makes few noticeable plays because he was a big part of the excellent 2017 defense and the head coach likes him.

The Ravens would have given Barr an imitation gold watch, slapped him on the back and said, “Thanks for dropping by.”