Wait, He Didn’t Make the Vikings’ Roster?

final 53-man roster for the Vikings
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The bubble; the void at the bottom of an NFL roster where a player’s season can sink or swim. Minnesota Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels has made a living on the bubble, scraping his way onto the final 53-man roster like clockwork each year. Journeymen and undrafted free agents spend most of their careers on the edge, but they’re not the only ones in fear of the eventual ‘pop.’

When a team like the Vikings consistently builds through the draft and retains young talent each offseason, they make it more difficult for those at the bottom of the depth chart to stick around. Sometimes, it’s a matter of circumstances; when Rick Spielman uses a first round pick on a wide receiver, another will have to go to make room on the roster. Other times, it’s a matter of players wearing out their welcome; think Gerald Hodges last year, and possibly, Cordarrelle Patterson this offseason.

Front offices have to make sacrifices when constructing a roster. It’s the reality of life in the NFL, where starting positions are only guaranteed if your name is Adrian Peterson or Teddy Bridgewater. Spielman’s cuts, as they do each year, will include a few surprising names. Who, exactly? That’s what the Vikings Territory team is going to try and answer today!

Fill in the blank — ‘Player X’ will not make the final 53-man roster for the Vikings.

Adam Warwas: Terence Newman

I think the Vikings have stumbled upon one of the NFL’s most potential-laden groups of cornerbacks, and there will have to be an odd man out, especially if they remain relatively healthy throughout the preseason. That unlucky winner, at least in my estimation, will be Terence Newman.

Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander are obviously not going anywhere. Captain Munnerlyn is a bit more of a question mark due to his age and contractual status, but he played a great season of football in 2015 and holds down the nickel position with authority… I’m guessing he sticks for at least 2016.

That really leaves Jabari Price, Marcus Sherels, and the soon-to-be 38-year-old Newman battling it out for one spot. Maybe two, but probably one. Sherels is still one of the NFL’s best punt returners and was retained for that reason. Meanwhile, Price also offers special teams value and more in the way of future potential.

Newman doesn’t have the special teams value. He won’t be playing safety (take that to the bank). He holds little-to-no value beyond this upcoming season due to his age. I just don’t see him weathering the storm if either Waynes or Alexander show Coach Zimmer anything that looks like starter capabilities in Mankato.

Sam: Charles Johnson

Not sure how much of a surprise this would actually be, but it seems highly unlikely to me Johnson makes it to Week 1. He struggled to get on the field last year and only saw 13 passes thrown his way all season. Now, with Laquon Treadwell in the mix, who basically mimics what Johnson brings to the offense (except, you know, better), Johnson may not have a role at all. With Adam Thielen and Cordarelle Patterson contributing more on special teams, and Jarius Wright having a clearly-defined niche, I think Charles Johnson gets squeezed out in the numbers game.

Carl: Marcus Sherels AND Cordarrelle Patterson

I know the question only asks for one player, but Stefon Diggs can replace both of the Vikings’ returners, so, it naturally becomes a two-player answer in my opinion. One of the qualities that excited the coaching staff when the Vikings drafted Diggs as a fifth-rounder in 2015 was his ability as a returner. As a freshman at Maryland, Diggs flashed a phenomenal skill set averaging 10.0 yards per punt return and 27.4 yards per kickoff return taking two all the way back for touchdowns.

Last season, Diggs spent the year behind Patterson and Sherels on the depth chart as the top backup returner. His explosiveness coupled with the value of two additional roster spots, could make him the odds on favorite to be the Vikings’ next great returner. The Vikings drafted wide receiver Laquon Treadwell with the 23rd pick and cornerback Mackensie Alexander in the second round, making it more competitive than ever for the Vikings to sacrifice two roster spots on players who will only contribute on special teams.

Adam Patrick: Audie Cole

What once seemed like a barren linebacker unit for the Vikings is suddenly overcrowded with talent. Cole could be the odd man out if Minnesota decides it needs to release a linebacker before the start of the season.

Cole is one of the few remaining Vikings leftover from the Leslie Frazier “era,” and current Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer has always seemed reluctant to play Cole in his defenses. Coming off a season-ending injury in 2015 certainly did not help improve Cole’s role within the defense.

The Vikings signed Cole to a one-year contract this offseason and the deal only guarantees him $40,000. He should be thankful that Minnesota is still giving him a chance to make this roster, but if the Vikings were to part ways with him before the season it should not come as a huge surprise.

Austin: Cordarrelle Patterson

All accounts — Patterson’s personal Twitter, beat reporters at OTAs — indicate Patterson worked hard to improve this offseason. He spent time running routes in California to become a serviceable receiver in the league. His videos and photos strike me as insincere, though, and I’m sure head coach Mike Zimmer feels the same. As professionals, it’s the duty of football players to train in the offseason and hone their craft; that’s why they’re paid millions of dollars to take the field on Sunday afternoons.

But Patterson had his chance to shine for the Vikings, and he’s squandered it for a number of different reasons. There are too many wide receivers on the roster and too many players who can return kicks to warrant another season of guessing with Patterson. It’s time the Vikings snuff out the “Flash” in the pan.

This week’s special guest is MrHurriicane, an avid Vikings fan and popular Youtuber! You can follow him on Twitter at @mrhurriicane and watch many of his Madden NFL/Vikings videos on his Youtube channel!

MrHurriicaneAudie Cole

Audie Cole has been a fan favorite dating back to his back-to-back preseason pick-sixes against Buffalo in 2012. Cole has showed promise throughout his time in Minnesota, and following a great performance spot starting against Chicago in Week 17 of 2014, I wondered if he might carve out a greater role. Since then, the Vikings have drafted Eric Kendricks, who should conceivably be a long term starter, along with Edmond Robinson, and more recently, Kentrell Brothers. On top of this, the Vikings have retained Chad Greenway for one more season, and brought in a player Mike Zimmer is familiar with in Emmanuel Lamur.

I believe Audie Cole is a good linebacker and will continue to play in the NFL, but I don’t think it will be in Minnesota. His 2015 season was cut short after a fractured ankle against the Rams in Week 9. Cole recorded only 3 tackles last year, playing on 38 defensive snaps and 106 more on special teams. The Vikings did sign him to a small one-year contract following the season, so many may think that because he has been on the team and seemingly played well, he will make the team again. I don’t see that happening.

In 2014, the Vikings kept eight linebackers on the final 53-man roster while keeping only six in 2015. If I try to predict the final linebackers now, I end up with: Barr, Kendricks, Brothers, Greenway, Robinson, and Lamur making the team, with Brandon Watts as a possible seventh linebacker. If at the end of training camp the Vikings view Audie Cole as the best backup inside linebacker on the team, then I think he makes it. I would love to see Cole bounce back from his injury and impress during camp and preseason to make the team again, but on a cheap one-year deal with a variety of linebackers competing for roster spots. I believe the Vikings could move on from Cole and give him a chance on another team.