A lackluster start to his NFL career created the foregone conclusion that Laquon Treadwell days in Minnesota would be numbered.
After three seasons in which the former first-rounder has 56 receptions for 517 yards and a touchdown, the Vikings declined Treadwell’s fifth-year option (which would have cost $10.162 million) last month, meaning the wide receiver is set to become a free agent after the 2019 season.
Treadwell said this offseason that he hopes to be a Viking for the long haul, though that isn’t likely given when teams decline fifth-year options they don’t often make those players part of their long-term plans.
What also seems unlikely is the Vikings parting ways with Treadwell before giving him one last shot to prove himself.
At the center of an offseason highlighted by a tight salary cap, scenarios about how the Vikings can create space to sign the players they want to keep around and have more financial flexibility have floated for months. Given where things stand between the Vikings and Treadwell, the same question is often raised: Why doesn’t Minnesota cut its losses now and move on?
Looking towards what the future holds for Treadwell, it’s important to paint the entire picture, from team optics to what it would do for the salary cap, when weighing the pros and cons of releasing the wide receiver.
According to ESPN’s roster management system, the Vikings have $1.255 million in cap space. The team needs to allot anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million to sign its practice squad at the end of the preseason, and any cushion it currently has will quickly disappear.
If the Vikings decide they want to cut Treadwell, it’s a move that would create $654,770 in cap savings, no matter if he’s cut today or at the end of August. Minnesota would be responsible for $1.356 million of proration (signing bonus) and the $1.150 million of the receiver’s $1.804 million base salary that is guaranteed in 2019.
Treadwell carries a $3.161 million cap hit, but if the Vikings decide to cut him, they would be paying $2.506 million in dead money (which would count against their cap) for a player not even on their roster. It’s better to keep someone on the roster who can produce something -- anything -- even for just a little bit longer, than to incur a cap hit of that size for a player who is searching for a job at home.
The amount of money the Vikings would save against the cap versus what else they'd be on the hook for makes it not worth it right now.
The optics of cutting a first-round pick before his fourth season don’t often sit well with ownership and the front office. It’s a move that amplifies the perceived mistake made by the people who decided to use a high draft pick to select the player.
No team wants to see a player it drafted in the first round fail. Sometimes a change of scenery via a fresh start elsewhere might be the best thing. In Treadwell’s case, it could save his career.
If Treadwell can finally turn the corner in training camp and carve out some role for himself, possibly in the mix for the No. 3 receiver job, then the final chance the Vikings are giving him will be worth it, especially since they're still responsible for paying him in the meantime.
On the flip side, if the receiver can string together some solid preseason numbers, it may raise his trade value and the chance that another team might be willing to take a flier on him.
Though the Vikings have unsuccessfully shopped Treadwell, if they’re able to find a trade partner and the right compensation (likely a late-round pick), the new team would be responsible for the guaranteed portion of Treadwell’s contract ($1.15 million), which is a lot for a player who has not been able to prove himself.
While there’s likely an offset provision in his contract, if Treadwell gets cut and signs elsewhere, that new team probably would pay his minimum salary (around $700,000) which would reduce the Vikings’ obligation to pay the difference between the $1.15 million guaranteed of his $1.804 million base salary and what he would be making elsewhere.