NFL News & Analysis

Minnesota Vikings, Harrison Smith reach agreement on 4-year, $64 million contract extension

The Minnesota Vikings and star safety Harrison Smith have reached an agreement on a four-year, $64 million contract extension.

The deal will make the 32-year-old the second-highest-paid safety in the NFL, behind only Jamal Adams. Over the last decade, Smith ranks top-three among safeties in pressures generated (75), pass breakups plus interceptions (58) and tackles for loss or no gain against the run (47).

The contract

The extension will run through 2025, Smith’s age-36 season. The 10-year veteran was originally drafted by Minnesota in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, so his latest extension will more than likely make him a career Viking. 

This new contract includes $26.38 million in new guaranteed money, and he’ll receive $22.5 million in new money over the next eight months. The new money cash flows are $15.3 million, $30.6 million, $45.9 million, and $64 million.

Smith’s cap hit for 2021 was set to be $10.232 million before the extension, and the Vikings were likely able to drop that number and clear some cap space to carry over into 2022.

Smith has been one of the league's best

Smith has finished the season as one of the 10 most valuable safeties every year since 2017. He has generated the second-most WAR at the entire position since being taken 29th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Harrison Smith: Career PFF grades and rank among safeties
Season PFF Grade Rank
2020 74.3 14th
2019 88.4 3rd
2018 79.7 13th
2017 91.8 1st
2016 75.1 23rd
2015 85.0 3rd
2014 87.4 5th
2013 55.1 65th
2012 84.5 8th

Click here to see Harrison Smith's career in PFF Premium Stats

Smith has been a difference-maker ever since he entered the league, no matter where he's been asked to line up. Over the last decade, he has graded among the league's top-five safeties when lined up inside the box, at free safety and at cornerback.

How long can he play at the level we've come to expect?

Smith will be 32 years of age in his 10th NFL season. But while he was uber-productive last year, finishing  15th among qualifying safeties in PFF overall grade (74.3), it was the second-lowest-graded season of his career behind only his 2013 campaign.

Since 2010, the average age at which safeties produce at or above the 90th percentile in WAR generated is just shy of 27.

Smith has smashed the 90th percentile at the position in WAR generated in all but one season, but only 26 safeties have hit that mark at 32-plus years of age over the last decade. Only eight players have done so past the age of 34.

It’s a riskier bet to make at this stage in his career, but if anyone is capable of producing at an elite level deep into their 30s, it’s Smith.

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What it means for other top safeties

NFL safeties have been drastically underpaid in recent years. According to PFF's wins above replacement (WAR) metric, safety is the fourth-most-valuable position on the field after quarterback, cornerback and wide receiver. However, the contracts signed by the league's top safeties haven't come close to matching that value. 

Tyrann Mathieu, entering his age-29 season with the Kansas City Chiefs, receives an immediate and substantial boost from this deal. Unlike the Jamal Adams extension, the 26-year-old's first veteran contract, the Smith deal completely legitimizes a new market at the safety position.

Mathieu could look to get very close to Adams’ $17.5 million per year average in the near future, opening the door for a huge 2022 offseason at the safety position for the likes of New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams, Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III and others.

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