A Trio of Vikings Listed Among NFL’s Top 100 Cut Candidates

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Surprisingly, there’s no Harrison Smith.

Instead, Over the Cap tosses defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, defensive end Dean Lowry, and corner Byron Murphy Jr. into the mix. The three defenders are moving into a future where their spots on Minnesota’s roster is somewhere precarious, so the mention of the trio of Vikings makes some sense.

Trio of Vikings Among NFL’s Top 100 Cut Candidates

Minnesota is in desperate need of a front seven overhaul.

Continuing with near zero pass-rush sizzle at defensive tackle and defensive end is a problem that must be rectified. Phillips is getting paid because he’s a menace when defending the run, so the fact that he led the defensive line with a mere 3 sacks is concerning. Lowry was supposed to enhance things from the 3T/5T spot, but he didn’t have a single sack or QB hit, leading to a diminishing role before being placed on the IR.

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And then there’s Murphy, who was signed last offseason to become Minnesota’s CB1 and top (only?) option in he slot. By no means did he establish himself as the league’s best coverage corner, but his versatility and quickness were fundamental to what Brian Flores was accomplishing on defense.

All three are heading toward a contract impasse. Take a look:

PlayerCap HitPossible Savings w/ CutDead Money w/ Cut
Phillips, Harrison$8,833,334$6,500,000$2,333,334
Lowry, Dean$4,600,000$2,200,000$2,400,000
Murphy Jr., Byron$10,250,000$4,650,000$5,600,000

Right off the top, we’ll establish the obvious: Murphy isn’t going to be cut.

Far more likely is an extension. At 25 (he’ll turn 26 on January 18th), the corner still has plenty of productive years ahead of him. No, he wasn’t perfect, but he had 57 tackles, 3 interceptions, 13 passes defended, and 4 tackles for loss while playing in 14 games.

In truth, Murphy should be a high-upside CB2. Moving money around may allow the Vikings to pursue that ideal by signing a true top-tier corner to partner with the former Cardinal.

Tossing some more years into his contract has the potential to shrink the projected $10.25 million cap charge down to $4.47 million in 2024. He isn’t going anywhere, folks. If anything, he’ll do the exact opposite by attaching himself to the roster for years to come via extension.

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Things don’t look nearly so optimistic for Dean Lowry.

The former Packer is going to turn 30 on June 9th. The plan was for him to be an impact starter within Brian Flores’ defense for 2023, but that plan quickly proved to be misguided. As mentioned, Lowry didn’t snag a single sack and nor did he hit a QB. Given that he was acquired to do precisely those things, Lowry’s roster spot looks to be in jeopardy.

Harrison Phillips provides a much more complex situation. Affectionately known as Horrible Harry, Phillips has been a rock-solid defensive lineman. He’s very strong when it comes to shutting down a running back, but he is limited when it comes to rushing the passer.

The 3 sacks in 2023 are a career-high, doubling his previous career high of 1.5 sacks in 2022. So, a far cry from Aaron Donald or Chris Jones.

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Minnesota could go either way with Phillips. He’s going to be 28 on January 25th, meaning he’s approaching the final half of his career. Not unlike Murphy, Phillips has a good chance of lowering his 2024 cap charge by agreeing to an extension. Putting more years on his deal comes with the potential of freeing up $4.3 million in added room for the current budget.

Maybe the most surprising component of the list, at least for Minnesota’s purposes, is the omission of The Hitman. He’ll be 35 on February 2nd and is staring down a hefty cap charge: $19,215,882. A cut would give Minnesota close to $11.4 million in added cap space.

Given his age, Smith is seems unlikely to be an extension candidate, especially since the Vikings are bursting at the seams with young safety talent (Josh Metellus, Camryn Bynum, Jay Ward, Theo Jackson, Lewis Cine).

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Last offseason, the Vikings moved on from franchise stalwarts such as Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, and Dalvin Cook. Cutting Smith isn’t a foregone conclusion, but the circumstances aren’t favorable for him returning unless he agrees to a pretty major pay cut.

Otherwise, some other Minnesota cut candidates include Patrick Jones II, Nick Mullens, Kene Nwangwu, and maybe even C.J. Ham (who, like Marcus Sherels before him, has proven to overcome all odds when the cut crunch hits).

Minnesota is currently sitting on $26.6 million in cap space. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is going to consider all options — cut, restructure, extension, trade — to put more money into the budget as the Vikings venture into a tremendously important offseason.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.