HC Promises Deep Look into Vikings Roster

During the introductory press conference for new defensive coordinator Brian Flores, Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell told the media they would take a deep look into the Vikings roster this week. Of course, that is no surprise, as the 2023 league year and free agency period begin on March 15.

As always, it’s the time of year for much speculation in the NFL, but this year it seems the speculation machine is in overdrive surrounding the Vikings. With so many aging veterans perceived by many as no longer worth expensive contracts, talk among the media and fanbase currently primarily covers who won’t be returning to Minnesota for the 2023 season.

HC Promises Deep Look into Vikings Roster

Almost every player who isn’t on a rookie contract seems to have been put on the chopping block by someone. Sitting at over $20 million over the projected salary cap limit, Minnesota has a lot of work to do, especially with Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and Danielle Hunter in line for extensions, as well as the need to strengthen the roster with new faces.

HC Promises Deep Look
Feb 4, 2023; Paradise, NV, USA; NFC linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) and linebacker Za’Darius Smith of the Minnesota Vikings (55) and guard Elgton Jenkins of the Green Bay Packers (74) during practice at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for the Vikings is there are many options to free up cap space. Extending Kirk Cousins again, although not a universally popular option, would seem an obvious place to start. Restructures are commonplace across the league for salary cap relief, and you can expect the Vikings to go down this route again with some players. Harrison Smith, Brian O’Neill, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook would be the obvious candidates for restructuring.

After that, it’s time to decide who isn’t going to be part of the team moving forward, and that’s what O’Connell and his team will be taking a long, hard look at this week. Some players will inevitably be leaving, perhaps some long-standing and popular ones.

How Deep Will the Cuts Run?

It’s unlikely the Vikings will make huge changes across the entire roster. The plan is to remain competitive and improve on last season. Blowing everything up to start again is not on the agenda. It is still a competitive rebuild. However, something has got to give somewhere, and some names appear more evident than others when it comes to moving on. 

Vikings Have a Dark Horse Rookie Standout
Brian Asamoah

The Vikings looked slow at linebacker throughout 2022, except for the limited playing time afforded to linebacker Brian Asamoah. The idea of becoming younger and faster at the position makes sense, with Asamoah being teamed with some new. Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks are both 30, and the Vikings can save $14 million by releasing the pair. I can’t see both players returning, and both leaving Minnesota doesn’t appear far-fetched.

A few players I can also see being released include C.J. Ham, whose $3.8 million cap hit for a fullback is too much for a team that ranked 31st in rushing attempts. The Vikings can save most of Chris Reed’s $2.75 million.

Despite Ed Ingram’s rookie struggles, the Vikings stuck by him. I don’t see Reed making the team this year, and the Vikings might even be able to get some late-round draft capital via trade for the veteran guard. After that, the only substantial savings to be made are on 2022 starters.

Is it Time to Move on From Some Starters?

There will not be sweeping changes by the Vikings, and linebacker is where change is most likely to happen. However, there are other options for the Vikings. Instead of restructures, the Vikings could move on from Harrison Smith, Thielen, and Cook. They could decide to move away from Za’Darius Smith’s expensive contract and not look to extend Hunter. But with the Vikings feeling like they are in win-now mode, that seems unlikely.

Vikings Could Achieve
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings guard Ezra Cleveland (72) on the sidelines before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

Ezra Cleveland and Cameron Dantzler are entering the last year of their rookie contracts. Both have been serviceable during the Vikings careers but have either done enough to warrant a second contract?

If Minnesota still ran a run-first offense, there would be a strong case for the run-blocking hero Cleveland. But his struggles in pass protection make him expendable in O’Connell’s offense. At cornerback, the Vikings need to find a starter, and with Andrew Booth and Akayleb Evans on the roster, the Vikings have young depth with potential. So do they need Dantzler as well?

Then, there are the free agents. Patrick Peterson, Garrett Bradbury, Chandon Sullivan, Jonathan Bullard, Khyris Tonga, and Duke Shelley all played vital roles on the 2022 Vikings and are all free agents. Add, too, the special teams duo of Greg Joseph and Andrew DePaola. Some of those won’t be coming back; in fact, the only one I can say with complete confidence I think will return is long-snapper DePaola.

O’Connell and his team will mull over all these big decisions this week, and soon enough, we will start getting the answers to who stays and who goes.