Never is the business of the NFL more evident, and harsh, than these two days as hundreds of NFL players will lose their jobs and possibly their football careers.
The dream will end for 21 players for the Minnesota Vikings as they make their roster decisions to make Saturday’s 53-man roster limit. Cornerback Jabari Price will go on the suspended list, delaying any decision on his future and leaving one spot for another player.
Mike Zimmer, Norv Turner and Minnesota’s coaches and personnel staff will have some tough decisions. I believe there are about 45 players who can be considered set on the roster, leaving 29 players for eight spots. Here’s a look at what I believe the Vikings roster might look at, come Saturday afternoon before any potential additions from other teams:
In: Teddy Bridgewater, Shaun Hill
Out: Taylor Heinicke
Heinicke might be one of the final decisions the team makes. There’s a very good chance he stays after impressing in the preseason with an 89.3 quarterback rating and 69.5 percent completion rate. I believe Minnesota would like to keep Heinicke on the active roster, but there are too many tougher cuts elsewhere to have the luxury of keeping a third quarterback. Heinicke should clear waivers and would likely head to the practice squad.
RUNNING BACK (3)
In: Adrian Peterson, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata
Out: Dominique Williams, DuJuan Harris
Again, no real surprises here. Williams showed well for himself with a team-high 117 rushing yards in the preseason and he averaged 4.0 yards per carry. The Vikings always seem to find running backs and this year was no exception. Williams could have shown enough to perhaps find a job elsewhere, or he could stick around on the practice squad. I would guess the latter occurs. Harris could be picked up by another team.
In: Zach Line
Out: Blake Renaud
The decision here could come down to keeping a fullback or a fourth tight end in Chase Ford. I believe Line sticks though tight end Rhett Ellison could be a blocker out of the backfield. The coaching staff sees potential in Line and it didn’t keep him around all of last year, spending the final three months on the active roster as a weekly inactive, just to simply cut him and go with no fullback this year.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
In: Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen
Out: Donte Foster, Isaac Fruechte, Ryan Whalen
I do believe Minnesota will keep six receivers. It’s not the perfect scenario, particularly for a team which rarely played four receivers at the same time last year. But the depth has been upgraded with Wallace and Diggs. Patterson, and possibly Diggs, could factor in as returners and Thielen is a core special teams players, so the roster spots wouldn’t be “wasted,” per se. Patterson remains a punching bag from the fans and some media, but I just don’t believe the team will just cut the former first-round pick. Foster has looked good in practices at times, and could be practice squad bound again, or maybe Minnesota native Fruechte will get the chance to stay.
TIGHT END (4)
In: Kyle Rudolph, MyCole Pruitt, Rhett Ellison…and Ford
My first curveball, so to speak. It’s tough to say this will happen, but I think there’s a possibility and Minnesota might not want to lose Ford. I believe the first three, as many expect, are set. Instead of losing Ford (maybe there is the opportunity for a trade), the Vikings can keep four tight ends and not keep one of the extra offensive linemen. I could be stretching it here, but I won’t say it’s a complete surprise if they went this path. Ford has shown to be a decent pass catching tight end.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
In: Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco, John Sullivan, Mike Harris, T.J. Clemmings, Joe Berger, David Yankey and Austin Shepherd
Out: Zac Kerin, Tyrus Thompson, Isame Faciane, Tom Farniok, Bobby Vardaro, Babatunde Aiyegbusi
The other side of my Ford stance is the team holding one less offensive linemen on the active roster, likely at the expense of Zac Kerin. At least two of the players released could find their way to the practice squad. Kerin, if my understanding is correct, is still practice squad eligible for a second season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Thompson, Faciane, Farniok or Aiyegbusi on the practice squad too.
With the starting line likely set — and Phil Loadholt and Carter Bykowski going on injured reserve — it would leave three backups. Berger is the first one off the bench at any of the interior line spots, which lessens the need for four backups. Yankey can play guard or tackle, as can the rookie Shepherd, who would likely be the backup swing tackle.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)
In: Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd, Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen
Out: Chigbo Anunoby, B.J. Dubose, Greg Hickman
No surprises here as Minnesota returns the top four linemen it featured last season. Anunoby was a surprise contributor during the preseason with 12 tackles and a tackle for loss and seemed to make an impression on the coaches. Perhaps Anunoby and Dubose, a sixth-round draft pick, could be under consideration for the practice squad.
DEFENSIVE END (5)
In: Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Scott Crichton, Danielle Hunter, Justin Trattou
Out: Leon Mackey
A little heavy at defensive with five players, but the Vikings held five players at the position at the end of last year, as well. The one change is third-round draft pick Hunter taking the spot of Corey Wootton. Hunter seemed to really progress as the preseason continued and could be in a spot to contribute earlier than expected. Crichton is a key backup who can also play inside. Trattou has potential after he was a practice squad player for much of last season before getting the chance to play over the final four games.
In: Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges, Eric Kendricks, Audie Cole, Brandon Watts, Edmond Robinson
Out: Brian Peters, Michael Mauti
The most confusing and unsettled position on the entire team, though it appears much improved from the last few seasons. Zimmer hasn’t even revealed who will start at middle linebacker in the base defense when the team opens at San Francisco in 10 days. Hodges and Kendricks seem to be the favorites with signs now pointing to Hodges to start. Behind the — let’s call them — top four (side rant here: No Minnesota shouldn’t go to a 3-4 defense as I’ve heard the fascination continue on Twitter) there’s a lot of unknown. Watts seemed to play much better in his second preseason and I believe he will have a spot. Cole playing late in games in the preseason makes you wonder about his status, but he’s a steady player and he contributes on special teams.
Mauti is a tough cut. He’s a heart-and-soul kind of player, who I expected to have eventually turned into the starting middle linebacker when he was drafted. But it hasn’t worked out for Mauti, who has been little more than a special teams player under Zimmer. I believe he will be released, but he’ll likely find another NFL home.
In this projection, I believe Robinson makes the team over Peters, the Canadian Football League transplant. Peters has looked good and I believe the coaching staff likes him, but so has Robinson. Robinson was a draft pick and also showed some chops as a pass rusher. He had 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry in the preseason.
And even as I make my prediction here, I’m not sure I am even close to right.
In: Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo, Antone Exum
Out: Shaun Prater, Anthony Harris
Prater already revealed via Twitter that he’s been released. There really is no surprise here at safety. Harris was a promising undrafted rookie free agent but he dealt with injuries early and never seemed to make an impact. Maybe he could be practice squad bound. The Vikings return their same four safeties from last year and it looks like Blanton will keep his starting spot, for now. I’m convinced Minnesota would like Exum to win the job but he hasn’t shown the down-to-down consistency the coaches want.
In: Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman, Trae Waynes, Captain Munnerlyn, Marcus Sherels, Josh Thomas
With Price suspend and Josh Robinson the physically unable to perform list to start the season, Minnesota’s cornerback group could survive the cuts. Munnerlyn’s preseason usage was strange but it could have just been the injury he was dealing with. Sherels will surely be the top punt returner to start the season. Thomas has nine tackles, an interception and a pass deflection in the preseason and will likely stay. He could be just a placeholder though until Robinson and/or Price return.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
In: Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, Kevin McDermott
There are no decisions to be made this week on the special teamers. Minnesota already decided on McDermott over Cullen Loeffler at long snapper. A tough preseason likely won’t be enough to knock out Walsh, who signed a contract extension prior to the season. Locke looked a bit better after a shaky start, as well. Walsh and Locke are safe for now, but will likely need to perform to keep their spots.