One can reasonably expect the Minnesota Vikings to make their next wave of newsworthy transactions in about two weeks.
Since the announcement that Klint Kubiak will offensively coordinate the Vikings after his father retired, the news cycle has been crickets. The Vikings community was engulfed in a typhoon of speculation [not news] – mostly pertaining to quarterback Kirk Cousins. His name likes to swirl inside trade rumors for some godforsaken reason.
Now is the time for real trades, free-agency rumors, and some cap-clearing maneuvers. That is about all NFL heads get at this juncture in February. March is when NFL executives start cooking with gas.
Minnesota has roster needs with its offensive line, defensive line, free safety, and perhaps cornerback. Addressing these issues will be a task involving skimpy amounts of money. The Vikings – per usual – are cash-strapped because funds are tied up in the contracts of Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Adam Thielen, among others. Remedying the roster holes will entail frugal spending and precision-based drafting.
But the Vikings can make the cap allotment balloon with some cuts to existing players. And that’s what the next ripple of news will provide. Last season, players like Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, and Everson Griffen were jettisoned due to monetary-value differences of opinion. Those occurred around March 13, 2020.
Expect a few of those this March.
A Tear-jerking Goodbye
Kyle Rudolph is likely in his final days as the Vikings TE1. He was drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2011 NFL Draft and has been a tremendous asset to the organization – in every imaginable facet. Rudolph nabbed 48 touchdowns in 10 seasons, the fourth-most by a tight end in the last decade behind Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Travis Kelce.
Rudolph could theoretically restructure his contract and stay in Minnesota for the rest of his life, but he made unambiguous comments to indicate otherwise one month ago:
“With that being said, I think I’m worth every dime of my contract. That doesn’t mean that I’m used to my potential and I’m used to do what I do well, so it will be interesting over the next few months. Like I said, I have three years left on my contract. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I’ve somehow become a pretty decent blocker because I’ve been forced to. It certainly wasn’t something that I ever did well at any point of my career. Maybe in high school because I was bigger than everyone else, but even then, I just wanted to run around and catch balls.”
Those words, “worth every dime,” are that of a man that is moving on – unless he is bluffing, which is unlikely. In 2020, Rudolph was the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid tight end per average annual salary while ranking 39th in receiving targets at his position.
At his current average salary — $9 million a year – he does not fit into the plans for the 2021 Vikings.
A Parting of Ways at DT
Mike Zimmer and his coach staff have an acute affinity for Shamar Stephen. During 2020, Stephen filled in at nose tackle when the freshly-acquired Michael Pierce opted out of the season over coronavirus concerns. Stephen is not built like a prototypical nose tackle, but he did an ok-job of holding down the fort.
Now it is time to get back to the jumbo-sized nose tackle Zimmer prefers. Pierce will return – and he is jumbo.
Stephen could be shifted back to the 3-technique spot on the defensive line, but he was not very ferocious during that assignment in 2019. That was evidenced in his two quarterback pressures. At the same position for the Vikings in 2018, Sheldon Richardson tallied 25 quarterback pressures.
His cap hit in 2021 is just over $5 million – too rich for penny-pinching Vikings.
Random fact: Stephen has played more games as a member of the Vikings than Daunte Culpepper.
Decision on Reiff
Left tackle Riley Reiff is hogging a lot of cap space. It is severely improbable that he rejoins the team in 2021 with his current scheduled cap hit of $17.45 million. Wowzers.
Reiff will either be asked to redo his deal, backloading it for the future. Or he will be released. That will put Minnesota back at square one for offensive line uncertainty. Reiff protects Kirk Cousins rather admirably whereas the rest of his offensive-line mates excels in run-blocking but lag in pass-protection. Ridding themselves of Reiff altogether would be strange for the Vikings.
But they cannot afford to pay north of $17 million for a pretty good left tackle. A player with that price tag must be elite at his position or damn close to it.