2021 Looks Like End of Road for Mike Hughes with Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings were thin via experience in the cornerback room during 2020. It now appears that 2021 may be the swan song for its longest-tenured cornerback.

Vikings reporter Chris Tomasson with the Pioneer Press tweeted on Monday:

Hughes just turned 24 in February and is the longevity mainstay of all Vikings corners on the roster at the moment — if that can be believed. Minnesota spent high draft capital on Hughes in 2018 as the team sought to rebound from an NFC Championship defecation in 2017.  This is the draft that, instead of Hughes, the Vikings could have drafted Lamar Jackson, Courtland Sutton, Darius Leonard, or Braden Smith. You know — revisionist draft history.

For context, the Hughes era began in the same game that quarterback Kirk Cousins first donned a Vikings helmet. The San Francisco 49ers waltzed into U.S. Bank Stadium as six-point underdogs in Week 1 of 2018 and lost to the Vikings, 24-16.  This is relevant to Hughes because the then-21-year-old ripped off a Jimmy Garoppolo pass and scampered for 28 yards en route to a pick-six. To date, Hughes is the youngest defensive player in Vikings history to score a touchdown.

Sadly, barring a robust 2021 campaign, that moment may end up as Hughes’ magnum opus.

The only questionable attribute surrounding Hughes’ employment with the Vikings is his health. He has missed half of all football games since entering the NFL. When he plays, Hughes is quite good — or is at least projecting along a reasonable trajectory of development.

Some NFL team — probably not the Vikings based on the Tomasson tweet — is going to employ a cornerback at the age of 25 with untapped potential during the 2022 season. To remain with Minnesota and actionize this possibility, the Vikings front office would be forced to pony up about $10 million in 2022. On injury history alone, Hughes is not worth that monetary commitment.

Should Hughes perform otherworldly in 2021, general manager Rick Spielman can still explore retaining his services beyond 2021. But the stakes are a bit trickier when the fifth-year option is declined. Use the 2021 free agency of Mitchell Trubisky as an example. He isn’t overly talented by any means, but the Bears might enjoy his candidacy for quarterback in a backup role next season. It could still transpire, but Trbuisky is a true-blue free agent that will have reemployment conversations with other teams next week.

To be clear, Hughes will very much have a role on the 2021 Vikings. He will not be jettisoned from the roster before then unless something bizarre happens. Hughes’ presence on the depth chart now weirdly feels like “gravy.” Why? Because no tuned-in Vikings fan expects Hughes to play anything close a full season. If he does — great — he can aid in the continued development of fellow young corners, Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney.

On the whole, however, today’s Tomasson news inches closer to the declaration that Hughes is a mini-bust. An outstanding 2021 campaign would assuredly change the narrative. That actually has to occur, though — which is a longshot considering that Hughes has played only 24 games since the start of 2018.