Bleacher Report Recommends Vikings Part Ways with 4 Starting Defenders

Think the Minnesota Vikings parting ways with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell this week was enough of a remedy for the franchise in 2023? Think again.

Bleacher Report authored an article this week with suggestions for the NFL’s “cash-strapped” teams, and of course, the Vikings made the list. Minnesota’s general manager, whether Rick Spielman or Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, usually glances at the ledger around this time on the calendar only to find his team upside-down via the salary cap.

And 2023 is no different — no different at all.

Bleacher Report Recommends Vikings Part Ways with 4 Starting Defenders

So again, per usual, Minnesota must find ways to create cap space, and in 2023, that may be cutting ties with longterm — and expensive — veterans. Vikings fans’ have already begun contemplating life without long-timers Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and C.J. Ham, but the defense could be targeted for reform, too.

Bleacher Report Recommends
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrates after a sack in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report recommended a total defensive overhaul, explaining the Vikings need to get under the cap to sign other, younger defenders.

“The Vikings, who are already facing a $13.4 million cap deficit, would have to clear a lot of cap space to chase any of the big-name free agents. They could do so by parting with linebacker Eric Kendricks, safety Harrison Smith, pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith, and linebacker Jordan Hicks,” Knox explained.

He continued, “These four players are each at least 30 years old and could provide significant cap savings if released. Cutting Harrison Smith with a post-June 1 designation would save $15.2 million, while cutting Za’Darius Smith before June 1 would save $12.2 million. Cutting Hicks would save $5 million, while releasing Kendricks would save $9.5 million. That means Minnesota could clear roughly $42 million by releasing four aging vets.”

Vikings Squander Golden Opportunity
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) against Green Bay Packers during their football game on Sunday, January 1, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. © Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Adofo-Mensah will indeed jettison veteran players, but it is unclear if all defensive veterans should be on the chopping block. While almost any measures to improve the defense are well-intentioned — the Vikings ranked 31st in yards allowed in 2022 — it can’t just toss a bunch of dudes — inexperienced dudes — on the field and hope for on-the-fly renovation. Some veterans, like Harrison Smith, for example, may need to stick around to provide leadership, mentorship, and some semblance of continuity.

The Simple Vikings Blueprint
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) returns an interception off New York Jets quarterback Mike White (not pictured) as cornerback Patrick Peterson. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Generally speaking, though, Knox is correct. Vikings faithful should fully expect eyebrow-raising trims to the roster. Now, it’s a matter of how many.

Once Kevin O’Connell hires a new defensive coordinator, that man, O’Connell, and Adofo-Mensah will formulate a plan for free agency, which begins on March 15th — or less than two months from now. Young and hungry free agents like Tremaine Edmunds (LB, BUF), Daron Payne (DT, WAS), Germaine Pratt (LB, CIN), etc., might be available, and such men could help anchor a new defense if Adofo-Mensah does go nuclear on the current bunch.

Overall, change is coming. If Knox is correct and men like Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks depart with offensive personnel like Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and C.J. Ham, it will feel like the second end of the Mike Zimmer era.

And that doesn’t necessarily have to be disadvantageous.

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).