Vikings Could Be Forced to Make Heartbreaking Decision

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Just a year ago, the Vikings parted ways with multiple franchise cornerstones. Linebacker Eric Kendricks, wideout Adam Thielen, and running back Dalvin Cook had all spent their entire careers in Minnesota but declining performances and growing contracts didn’t go together and forced general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to make tough decisions.

Vikings Could Be Forced to Make Heartbreaking Decision

A similar situation could await the executive in the 2024 offseason. Besides the monumental decisions for the organization’s future, like deciding on the pending free agents Danielle Hunter and Kirk Cousins and how he intends to spend the 11th overall pick, he must put together a competitive roster. To accomplish that, cap space is paramount.

Vikings Could Be Forced to Make Heartbreaking Decision
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Unlike last season, the Vikings begin the offseason with some wiggle room but potentially need more to get the most out of their roster. One guy who could provide huge cap savings if released is safety Harrison Smith.

A beloved member of the organization, perhaps a future Ring of Honor member deserving of a conversation about a gold jacket, Smith has been a tremendous Viking since 2012 in what maybe was Rick Spielman’s best draft selection.

However, he will turn 35 on February 2. While still playing at a decent level for the most part in 2023 and helping the team with leadership and versatility, Smith is nowhere close to his prime self, the game-changing safety who just makes play after play.

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He has not yet decided on retirement. After the final game of the 2023 campaign, Smith made a mysterious statement:

Whenever I retire, I’m not going to tell you. You’ll figure it out. I’ll say this: It’s hard to have the ability to play and not have a desire to play. Whatever that gives you, I’m not trying to be ominous or anything. Right now, my shoulder hurts.

Harrison Smith

If he decides to ride into the sunset after a long career, the following theory becomes moot, but if he wants to continue to play, there are some conversations to be had.

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Last season, in a comparable situation, Smith accepted a pay cut to dodge the fate of his teammates Kendricks, Thielen, and Cook. This year, the financials make a release even more apparent.

The six-time Pro Bowler is under contract for two more seasons after signing a four-year $64 million contract. His cap hits in 2024 and 2025 are $19.2 million and $22 million, a wild number for a player his age. The 2024 cap hit puts him at the fifth spot among all NFL safeties.

If he wants to continue his career but doesn’t agree to take a pay cut, the Vikings must release him, saving $11.3 million in 2024 or $15.3 million if done after June 1. Football is a tough business and it doesn’t make sense to continue the employment on those conditions. The good news is that he has a massive base salary of $14.45 million in the upcoming season, so a pay cut is easily possible.

going to stick
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Defensive coordinator Brian Flores has been a fan of Smith since stepping into the building, and he said a couple of weeks ago about his defender:

He’s very bright, he’s very talented. There is a want-to and a belief in himself and a belief in his skillset. He has really been awesome to work with. I think he’s Hall of Fame-worthy, I think he has already kind of, I don’t want to say cemented that but there should certainly be a conversation around that whenever he decides to move forward. Hopefully, it’s not anytime soon. 

Brian Flores

If Smith returns for another season, he will undoubtedly play a significant role in Flores’ unit. Camryn Bynum and Josh Metellus would take over the safety spots in case of retirement or release. Flores likes a versatile defense, and Metellus is a big part. His play in the box basically as a linebacker, opens another big role for a traditional safety.

Lewis Cine Pitched a Shutout vs. Lions. And Not in a Good Way.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

That guy could be Lewis Cine, the former first-rounder who still has barely seen the field in his NFL career. 2023 rookie Jay Ward and Theo Jackson were also contributors in Flores’ first season and could be in line for more work.

Through 12 seasons, Smith racked up 176 games, made 1,039 combined tackles, 19.5 sacks, and caught 34 interceptions. He also forced 12 fumbles and scored four touchdowns.

His future will likely be decided sometime in the next couple of months.

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