Vikings Should Say ‘Goodbye’ to Hometown Hero

Vikings Rookie Could Be X-Factor Moving Forward
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After losing to the New York Giants just over a week ago, the Vikings entered their offseason. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah started by signing players to future contracts and parting ways with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. He is now in the stages of finding candidates for interviews for the vacant position.

That 2023 offseason will be one that will bring a lot of change to the organization. Last year, most executives and coaches were replaced, and this year, many players will likely depart from the franchise. Even longtime building blocks on the field and locker room are unsafe.

Vikings Should Say ‘Goodbye’ to Hometown Hero

Vikings Should Say 'Goodbye' to Hometown Hero
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

When the Vikings hired Kevin O’Connell, it was expected to be followed by many more changes to the offenses. He kept almost the same personnel, outside of drafting Ed Ingram to start at right guard and the acquisitions of tight ends Johnny Mundt in free agency and T.J. Hockenson via trade midseason.

Most folks also looked at O’Connell’s offense in Los Angeles and, for good reason, expected the Vikings to look exactly the same. However, the new playcaller adjusted some things to his players’ skill sets.

For the Vikings, 'Ugly' Works Just Fine
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One position, in general, was new for him. The Rams didn’t employ a fullback. In Minnesota, that spot is filled by hometown hero C.J. Ham from Duluth, Minnesota. Fullbacks are always popular among fans because they do the dirty work without getting much praise. However, Ham was different.

He received carries, was a part of the passing game, and was an excellent blocker. In addition, Ham helped the special teams units with his contributions. Ham’s value doesn’t stop there, as he has also been a team captain and a valuable piece in the locker room.

The problem is that Ham doesn’t fit the vision of head coach Kevin O’Connell and his snap counts prove that. While Ham was on the field for over 350 offensive snaps in each of the last three seasons during Mike Zimmer’s reign, he only played 169 snaps in 2022. That equals 15% of the Vikings’ plays.

The Vikings 2022 Offense by the Numbers: After Week 15
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Since he became the fullback of the Vikings in 2017, Ham never received fewer rushing attempts than in 2022, and only in 2017, he had fewer targets in the passing game. His role is clearly disappearing. O’Connell prefers an extra wide receiver or a second tight end on the field compared to past offensive coordinators.

The fullback is under contract for one more season, but the purple team would save $3,050,000 in cap space by releasing the veteran. That move would help the Vikings, a franchise well over the cap space.

It is still possible that the Vikings will keep Ham on the team solely for his contributions on special teams and in the locker room, but it seems unlikely with the current contract.

Blueprint to Beat the
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Besides Ham, the Vikings’ running back room could look much different next season. In 2022, starter Dalvin Cook lacked the explosiveness of his prime. He was one of the league’s least effective runners, and the Vikings could save cap space by moving on from their star runner.

His backup Alexander Mattison is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March after his rookie contract will be expired. Rookie Ty Chandler could play a significant role in the team’s future plans.

Running backs are generally relatively easy to replace. It’s the one position where late-round draft picks can be as effective as early selections. Many teams rely on a combination of cheap free-agent signings and late-round picks.

Considering that the Vikings passed the ball on 65% of the plays, the fifth-highest rate in the league, despite having an expensive running back on the roster, a cheaper running back room seems logical.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt