Sunday’s Vikings Game to Help Shape 2023 Roster

Defender on the Road
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The Minnesota Vikings can fall no further than the No. 3 seed in the postseason sweepstakes this weekend and could even retake the No. 2 seed if the Arizona Cardinals feel frisky at the San Francisco 49ers. That probably won’t happen, but Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell has indicated his plan for starters to play at Soldier Field this week.

And while O’Connell may indeed begin the game with starters, he’s also hinted at an undefined pitch count, enabling reservist players to see action. For 2023 purposes, the so-called pitch count is important because this could be the last chance in the 2022 season for some players to stand out.

Sunday’s Vikings Game to Help Shape 2023 Roster

Possible Departure of Big-Name Vets Soon

Game to Help Shape 2023
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

Want a painful reality? The Vikings are unlikely to retain popular, aging veterans with fat contracts. Notably, Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, and Dalvin Cook may be at the forefront of financial renegotiation talks — or not be with the team at all in 2023. It’s just how the business works as players enter their 30s or approach the age-30 milestone.

At Chicago, those men will reportedly play, but for how long? In theory, Minnesota could grab an early lead and put starters on ice. Such an occurrence would enable “the young guys” to experience playing time and essentially audition for the 2023 team in the 2022 regular season.

Folks aren’t chattering about it yet, but a lot of roster fat — in terms of money — must be trimmed in the next three months. Bears-Vikings could be some longstanding players’ regular season swan song with the Vikings.

Who Steps up Then?

to Watch at Packers
Brian Asamoah

If one follows the Thielen-Kendricks-Cook logic, expect Jalen Nailor, Brian Asamoah, and Ty Chandler to see some playing time. Nailor scored last week via “garbage time” in a loss to the Green Bay Packers. In fact, his paydirt was the most exciting thing to happen for about two hours inside that hellscape.

Asamoah has already been folded into the Vikings defense, making an impact emphatically. He should’ve been credited with a forced fumble against the Indianapolis Colts a few weeks ago, but the referees blew a would-be touchdown dead premature, canceling a Chandon Sullivan moment. It was Asamoah who helped jar the ball loose. And against the Giants the following week, Asamoah caused a fumble, scooped it, and galloped a bit.

Ty Chandler is a longshot to play in Chicago, but if the Vikings embrace a midgame rest-the-starters philosophy, the rookie could experience some gametime.

Like a Preseason Game

reactions after Giants
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Again, O’Connell said this week, “starters are playing.” We can’t really conclude the guy is lying. However, it would be odd if the Vikings stubbornly clung to starters if the game was out of reach. Health should be coveted heading into the postseason next weekend.

Therefore, the Vikings could treat Week 18 like a preseason game, inserting 1st-team players for a few drives and then deciding, “we’ve seen enough.”

If the “we’ve seen enough” idea comes to fruition, young players will get an early jump at competing for the 2023 team, as the 2022 roster is virtually assured to encounter some upheaval. Per usual, Minnesota ranks near the bottom of the NFL per cap space, so Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will need to be creative.

That starts with “seeing what you have” on the roster, particularly with the young reservist players.

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 Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).