3 Defenders the Vikings Could Cut in the Upcoming Offseason

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It will be a fascinating offseason for the Minnesota Vikings as they have reached a crossroads without a starting quarterback on the roster and a bunch of holes on defense. Danielle Hunter and Kirk Cousins–two of the best players in the business–are scheduled to leave in free agency in a few months. Their future will directly impact everything else GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah can and will do in the offseason.

3 Defenders the Vikings Could Cut in the Upcoming Offseason

3 Defenders the Vikings Could Cut in the Upcoming Offseason
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Releasing players is something every general manager does a dozen times every year. It might not be the glamorous parts of that job, but increasing cap space flexibility and parting ways with underwhelming players is necessary. The Vikings must decide on some athletes shortly. Here are three candidates who might get axed.

Harrison Smith

Starting the list of players the general manager might fire with a possible future Hall of Famer and Ring of Honor member feels strange, but it isn’t. Harrison Smith has been a phenomenal player for the Vikings for more than a decade, and the six-time Pro Bowler deserves to play in Minnesota for as long as he wants.

3 Defenders the Vikings Could Cut in the Upcoming Offseason
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However, his cap hit is astronomical since he signed a four-year $64 million contract a few years ago. He is under contract for two more seasons, and his cap hit in 2024 will be over $19.2 million, the fourth-highest among safeties in the league, only trailing Jamal Adams, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Derwin James.

By releasing him, the Vikes would save more than $11 million, and the number would rise to roughly $15.3 million if they do it after June 1. Smith’s play declined further this year, although he turned back the clock in a few games, and another drop is certainly foreseeable at age 35.

Brian Flores Changed the Vikings Offseason
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In 2023, the star safety managed to stay on the team (unlike Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and Eric Kendricks) by agreeing to take a pay cut. He could repeat that this year. But if he wants to continue his playing career and the safety and the Vikes can’t find a compromise, the financially responsible decision would be to release him like the other longtime players, and it would be a true no-brainer.

Dean Lowry

In 2023, Minnesota signed four notable free agents (besides re-signing their own players) in the offseason. While he is no star by any stretch of the imagination, Byron Murphy has been a decent cornerback for the Vikings, solidifying one of the team’s weaknesses.

The significance of Josh Oliver can be debated as he adds a strong run-blocking skill set but is otherwise just a guy. Considering the terrible running attack, it hasn’t worked out so far, although that is obviously not completely his fault.

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Marcus Davenport’s addition to the roster was a disaster, as he barely played because of a pair of ankle injuries, one of which required surgery. The fourth guy was Dean Lowry, who played next to Harrison Phillips on the defensive line before suffering a season-ending torn pec.

Lowry is the man for the dirty work. He takes on blockers and stands his ground but rarely produces splashy plays. Interestingly, that is exactly what everyone thought he would bring to the table.

His cap hit in the upcoming season is $4.6 million, and the Vikes could get out of all of that if they released him. Adofo-Mensah and Brian Flores or his successor must decide if he is worth that investment or if he should be one-and-done in Minnesota. Because his salary is injury-guaranteed, he must pass a physical first, only complicating the matter.

Lewis Cine

Adofo-Mensah’s first pick as a general manager hasn’t worked out one bit. He infamously traded down and selected Georgia’s national champion, Lewis Cine. The safety was supposed to be a successor for Harrison Smith and some necessary infusion of youth for an aging defense.

Lewis Cine Pitched a Shutout vs. Lions. And Not in a Good Way.
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Cine first lost the battle for the starting job to Camryn Bynum and then got hurt in Week 4. His gruesome injury cost him valuable development time, and perhaps he lost a step because of it. Entering the preseason fully healthy, he has failed to make an impact in the crowded safety room that features Smith, Bynum, and Josh Metellus. More disappointing is that he was inactive multiple times while Jay Ward and Theo Jackson saw playing time.

Whenever a first-round pick doesn’t work out, moving on at some point makes sense. The franchise would take on a cap penalty of roughly $4 million, but keeping him on the roster just because of his draft status when he hasn’t shown any flashes doesn’t make sense. A trade could be the best compromise unless the coaching staff feels he could still become a meaningful contributor at some point.

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