1 Viking Significantly More Likely to Stay with Brian Flores Hire

The Minnesota Vikings hired Brian Flores from the Pittsburgh Steelers as defensive coordinator on Monday, the first large and telling domino of the offseason. The move indicates Minnesota will renew all-in Super Bowl stakes for about the eighth season in a row.

Had Flores not been the choice and the Vikings hired a young position coach for his first DC audition, perhaps the tea leaves would’ve indicated a subtle rebuild. But Flores didn’t join the Vikings to contribute to an intentional 5-12 season or so, and it’s safe to assume Minnesota will try to build on its 2022 NFC North crown.

1 Viking Significantly More Likely to Stay with Brian Flores Hire

Adding Flores also significantly changes the scope of Minnesota’s offseason plans on defense. As there will be no tear-it-down rebuild, some veteran players are likelier to remain with the club because Flores probably didn’t sign on the purple dotted line to work with nobodys. One such man now more likely to stay with the Vikings in 2023 is Harrison Smith.

1 Viking Significantly More
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) reacts after breaking up a pass against the New York Jets during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

A source told VikingsTerritory in the immediacy of the Flores hire, “Harry isn’t going anywhere,” implying Smith, who turned 34 six days ago, will be a staple of the Flores defense and fulfill his 12th season in Minnesota.

Of course, Flores could be a one-hit-wonder with the Vikings as the 41-year-old figures to be a head coaching candidate in 2024 — like he was during this recent coaching carousel. NFL analyst and writer Aaron Wilson tweeted Tuesday, “On new Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores withdrawing from Cardinals head coaching search, several league sources emphasized how many potential head coaching jobs will be open in 2024 and was a consideration for former Dolphins head coach.”

Everyone Seems to Love
Sep 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores talks with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) during a timeout during the second half of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports.

So, as the new defensive coordinator may have “one year to get it right in Minnesota,” expect the kitchen cupboard to be fully stocked, including Smith, who was theorized by many Vikings fans as a cap-casualty candidate.

Smith is on deck to incur a $19.1 million cap hit against the Vikings books in 2023, while the team could, in theory, release him for savings of about $7.4 million. But that transaction would entail an $11.7 million dead cap penalty, making the hypothetical release less likely. And with Flores in the saddle — a man with one season written all over his itinerary — parting ways with Smith now seems silly.

Moreover, Flores is notorious for blitzing opposing quarterbacks. His Vikings predecessor, Ed Donatell, was not. In fact, in terms of defensive philosophy, Flores is the anti-Donatell, fancying aggression and attitude and scoffing at “bend but don’t break” as a useful strategy.

The Vikings Final Injury Report: Week 14
Oct 16, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) after a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports.

At the peak of his powers — and even in his twilight years — Smith is an adept blitz option who was essentially ignored for the assignment in 2022. Flores loves to blitz with safeties and will presumably have Smith and 2022 rookie Lewis Cine at his disposal.

It’s fair to forecast a paycut or contractual restructure for the longtime Viking, but penciling Smith as “off the board” in 2023 is unwise with a new defensive bossman in Minnesota. Flores didn’t take the Vikings job out of pity. He had options — more than most, in fact.

Smith will return in 2023 and probably retire with the team that drafted him before too long.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.