Here’s Why the Vikings Are Exploring So Many Free-Agent RBs

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In the last week, the Minnesota Vikings have auditioned three running backs for potential free-agent contracts — Kareem Hunt, Mike Davis, and Ronald Awatt.

The franchise currently rosters five running backs: Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, Kene Nwangwu, DeWayne McBride, and Abram Smith.

Here’s Why the Vikings Are Exploring So Many Free-Agent RBs

Five RBs are more than enough for a regular season roster, so why on earth are the Vikings trying out a plethora of additional halfbacks? Here’s why.

Kene Nwangwu Injury

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The Vikings kick returner has been hobbled as of late, and head coach Kevin O’Connell hasn’t exactly offered a concise explanation of his prognosis.

“It’s one of those things where he’s doing everything we’re asking of him. Just kind of working through kind of the last bit of discomfort there and hoping to get him back on the grass sooner than later,” O’Connell said about the Nwangwu’s injury last week.

There’s a small chance that Nwangwu’s ailment is more serious than folks expect, and that would prompt Minnesota’s front office to explore contingency plans — in the form of Hunt, Davis, or Awatt.

Hopefully for Nwangwu and the Vikings sake, he’s back on the field before too long, and this theory becomes moot. For now, however, it is a reasonable explanation for the recent RB tryouts.

Unsatisfied with Depth?

So Many Free
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Dalvin Cook left the Vikings in June and isn’t coming back. He now plays with Aaron Rodgers in New York for the Jets.

The post-Cook era begins now with Alexander Mattison leading the way and the aforementioned Chandler, Nwangwu, and McBride as backups. With three weeks of training camp in the books, plus one preseason game, the Vikings might have learned they need more oomph in the RB room.

And a player like Hunt is precisely that — RB oomph.

Chandler played wonderfully in the preseason game at Seattle and could be called on sometime this season as an RB1 if injuries emerge. The consensus on McBride and Nwangwu as RB1 or RB2 types, though, is less clear.

Adding Hunt, Davis, or Awatt could indicate a less-than-expected level of excitement about RBs not named Mattison or Chandler.

The ‘For Later’ File

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell at 2023 mandatory minicamp in Eagan. The Vikings won 13 games in O’Connell’s first season as head coach. He previously won a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams as offensive coordinator in 2021.

Perhaps the most sensible hypothesis, the Vikings may be saving these names ‘for later.’ Via free-agent visits with Dalton Risner (OG) or Ronald Darby (CB), for example, O’Connell has explained he likes to “meet the person” and build a relationship in case opportunities arise down the road for partnership.

For instance, if Mattison pulls a hamstring before Week 1, Minnesota would have Hunt, Davis, or Awatt available to call for a quick contract. The same logic applies to a Chandler injury.

Teams do this frequently — have free-agent conversations knowing a deal might materialize in the future.

If the Vikings need another RB, they’d know ‘what they’re getting’ in Hunt, Davis, or Awatt, thanks to August meetings.

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,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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