Cut One, Extend One, Trade One: Vikings Writers Weigh In
The offseason is the time for misguided hope, golfing, naps, and roster speculation. It’s this reality that is prompting me to both nap more and pursue the roster questions we’re all interested in. Foremost on the minds of many fans rests in what the Minnesota Vikings will do with several of their highly-paid, talented players.
I therefore reached out to folks who cover the Vikings, seeking a mix of in-house and external perspectives. Their task was relatively straightforward, but not easy. They could choose a trio of players in Option A or the trio in Option B. They’d then have to decide who to cut, extend, and trade. Each option could only be used one time.
In each entry, I’ve included the author’s Twitter embedded in their name and then the primary spot to find their work.
Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, Adam Thielen
When you look at these three players I feel like any combo would work but this is how I would approach it.
Cut: Adam Thielen (post June 1st Designation) would save 12M (5M dead cap) and would allow Thielen to chase a ring while the Vikings try to do a quick reset.
Trade: Kirk Cousins, would free up $35M on the cap, and could probably fetch a 1st round pick given what Wentz and Stafford went for last offseason. He’s a good QB who could help a contender right now. But it feels like both parties should part ways.
Extend: Danielle Hunter, coming off back to back injury should hopefully mean we can pay Hunter a little less, even though his contract is already a bargain. Lock up Hunter for a while and gain some cap relief as well.
Extend Cousins. The reality is that there is no readily available QB that can equal Cousins’ top 10 performance at less cost. Extending him will allow the Vikings to push most of his $45 million 2022 cap hit into future years when the salary cap will be higher.
Trade Hunter. Hunter has an injury history and is a $26 million cap hit in 2022. His remaining two-year contract still undervalues him compared to market value though, and the Vikings could get a first-round pick for Hunter in trade. Any extension for Hunter would likely be at nearly twice his current AAV, so trading him now for a top draft pick might be the best option.
Cut Thielen. Thielen’s $17 million cap hit in 2022-2024 is way over his market value, given his age (32), production and injury history. And there are younger, likely more productive free agent WRs like Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin in free agency this year.
Extend – Danielle Hunter
While will be a big risk due to injury, Hunter is an absolute game changer when he’s on the field, which has been evident when he’s missed time in 2020 and 2021. His injuries should drive the price down and he has yet to have knee/leg injuries that could sap his ability, so for me it’s a matter of buying low on an elite player.
Trade – Kirk Cousins
I simply can’t justify extending Kirk after what we’ve seen from him the past 4 years. I also cannot justify cutting him, so a trade is the most obvious option. With the QB market hosting more buyers than sellers, the Vikings should be in prime position to fetch a nice return (late 1st, high 2nd round pick should be the starting price).
Cut – Adam Thielen
I’d rather not straight-up release him, but somebody here has to be cut. While Thielen is still a phenomenal redzone threat, his yardage numbers have been dropping, and his deep ball game has declined in 2021. He still has what it takes to be an above average #2 WR and he’d be scooped up in a heartbeat on the FA market.
The player that I would cut in this scenario would be Thielen. At 31, he’s getting older and hasn’t reached 1,000 yards in a season since 2018. That is also the last time he has played all 16 games as well, further damning his situation. Combine this all with his nearly $17 million cap hit that is set in 2022, and keeping Thielen isn’t the slam dunk guarantee that we all believe it is.
The player that I would extend would be Danielle Hunter. Despite his past two seasons being marred by injuries, the stud defensive end is still only 27. Even though he only played in seven games before a pec injury ended his season, he still racked up six sacks, good enough for second on the team. But with a cap hit over $25 million set for 2022, Hunter could be a prime candidate to extend and move money around. He may not like it, but only playing seven out of 33 possible games the last two seasons makes it hard to justify that steep price.
The player that I would trade would be Kirk. Now that Zimmer and Spielman are gone, it’s safe to say that the signing of Kirk didn’t work out the way that the team envisioned it when they signed the quarterback in March 2018. As we all know, he is set for a $45 million cap hit in 2022. That eats up a lot of money for a team that is pressed for money this off-season. He is also 33, which by today’s standards isn’t a death sentence for NFL quarterbacks, but does that mean he is part of a new GM and coach’s future? I say trade him now when he still has value, see if you can get a first-round pick (or more), and go all-in with your young franchise quarterback in 2022.
Michael Pierce, Dalvin Cook, Eric Kendricks
Cut: Michael Pierce
There’s no doubt Michael Pierce is a talented DT when healthy, but that has precisely been the problem in Minnesota. After opting out of the 2020 season, Pierce played in just eight games during 2021. The Vikings have other options at the position as well. Dalvin Tomlinson played well, and Armon Watts has been impressive in Pierce’s stead. Additionally, by cutting Pierce, Minnesota can save over $6 million towards the cap.
Trade: Dalvin Cook
This one would be a tough pill to swallow. Dalvin Cook has been terrific at RB for the Vikings, especially over the past couple seasons. That said, this is likely the most valuable that Cook will ever be in his career. He was mostly healthy this year, put up excellent numbers once again, and he will improve any offense looking to compete for a Super Bowl. The Vikings can get some serious draft capital with this trade, and the offense is still in good hands with a top-tier passing attack as well as Alexander Mattison.
Extend: Eric Kendricks
As valuable as Dalvin Cook is to the offense, Eric Kendricks is the heart and soul of the Vikings defense. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Kendricks is the most underrated player in the NFL. His ability to prowl the middle of the field takes so much pressure off everyone else on that defense, and he’s also picked up a new trick in rushing the passer. Minnesota needs to do whatever they can to make him a Viking for life.
Extend: Eric Kendricks. The man anchors the defense. And do the Vikings really want no linebackers heading into 2022? God, I hope not. Barr is gone. Vigil is habitually average. Minnesota needs a battle-tested warrior in the heart of the defense. Kendricks is emphatically battle-tested. I know people are aroused over a full rebuild, but the team needs continuity. Give me Kendricks, undoubtedly.
Trade: This is vicious because I do not endorse a Cook trade. However, presented with this scenario, the trade commodity would have to be the Florida State alumnus. The Vikings won’t get a lot for a running back — maybe a 3rd Rounder — but Cook earns a lot of average annual cash. If I must trade someone from this threesome, I trade Cook and roll with Mattison, Nwangwu, and probably a rookie from the 2022 NFL Draft. But I don’t like this idea, for the record.
Cut: Pierce is pretty damn effective — when he plays. Yet, he doesn’t play much. He’s missed 76% of all Vikings games since joining the team. That makes this Trade-Cut-Extend situation a no-brainer for me. Strangely, nose tackles aplenty are typically available in free agency. Pierce is the easiest to replace from this lineup of Cook, Kendricks, and Pierce. Well, running backs are allegedly a dime a dozen to insert in a lineup. But Cook is a Top 3 halfback.
With the announcement by Vikings ownership that the search for a new GM and Head Coach begins immediately, I think the team will look to rebuild and move as many veteran players with costly contracts to other teams…hello Kirk Cousins.
I approached this mostly from a financial perspective.
Cut one: IDL Michael Pierce. (My thoughts-I liked the Pierce signing but he’s been injured a lot this season and Watts is younger and less expensive)
Extend one: LB Eric Kendricks. (My thoughts-Depending on who the new HC and DC will be I don’t know if Kendricks will fit into their long term plans, but short term he’s still a very good cover LB…cut and trade are essentially the same with a 5.96M cap hit, I’m not sure what a comparable extension would look like that he and his agent would agree too)
Trade one: Dalvin Cook: (My thoughts-Don’t @ me. The offense needs to flow through the QB, TE’s and WR’s, although Cook would be a 9M dead cap hit he’s probably at his peak trade value now).
Final thoughts: With a new GM and HC coming onboard, every veteran contract should be looked at for a potential trade, cut or restructure.
For context, I’m not a Vikings fan. The only impact the Vikings performance has on me is my co-hosts mood on Notes from the North when we break down the game each week. I feel I come at this unbiased.
It took me only a couple seconds to decide that Kendricks was the one you extend. All three are great players, but on a bad defense this year Kendricks has been a steady presence in my opinion. Looking at the cap implications, I feel the best about his contract moving forward, and while all players have had injury concerns, him and Cook have missed 8 games over the past 3 years, with Pierce missing more than that just in 2021 alone. The defense needs the most help on this team, and between Pierce and Kendricks, I pick Kendricks.
It then comes down to Cook and Piece for cut and trade, and those both hurt. But you need to be heartless, and the NFL is also a cruel world. And despite the exercise, I think these are legit questions for the team to ask. It comes down to three factors for me for these two players; in order: return, savings, team need.
Looking at Cook’s dead cap space made me rethink my decision of keeping Kendricks for a second, but despite a 3rd straight 1000-yard season, he’s looked worse this year. Big running back contracts rarely seem to age well, and it’s a position I think you can get value from going with a cheaper option. And with the accusations made earlier this season against him, I wonder if this will be a decision they are forced into inevitably. My thought is that you trade one of Pierce/Cook pre-June 1 and then cut the other post 1st, like what they did with Rudolph last year, and use that money to sign their draft picks. I believe Cook has the greatest upside of these three players, and if they don’t have a hard time with another team taking on that contract, I trade him. So it’s cut Pierce post June 1 and then trade Cook pre-June 1st for the best pick you can get. Cutting Pierce creates 8.5 million in cap space, and the trade with Cook saves approximately $2.7 million next year, close to 8 million in 2023, 12.5 in 2024 and 14.5 in 2025.
Cut: Michael Pierce
This is the easiest decision of these three. Pierce was very good when he was on the field, but less then ten games in two years are certainly not enough for the cap-strapped Vikings to keep him around. The time he missed also drastically diminished any trade value, so the only logical choice the Vikings have is to cut him this off-season.
Trade: Dalvin Cook (post June-1)
The decision about Dalvin Cook‘s contract will probably be made in the 2023 off-season, because the Vikings would save only 2.7 million dollars by cutting or trading him pre-June-1. In this scenario however, Cook is less valuable to the team‘s success than Kendricks in my opinion, because the Vikings have a solid group of offensive playmakers and a new scheme, which is less focused on the running game, might make Cook expendable. If the Vikings receive a solid offer, a post-June-1 trade could make sense.
Keep: Eric Kendricks
The defense will need a drastic rebuild over the next few off-seasons. Kendricks could be a prime candidate to be let go, because he’s over 30 and relatively expensive for an off-ball LB. However, the Vikings are already expected to lose both starters next to Kendricks (Barr and Vigil), while they also need to replace two CBs and at least one edge rusher. Kendricks would be one of the few veterans left in a very young defensive unit, so his presence might be valuable.
Well, I still want to change my mind, but here you go…
This is difficult. I don’t have an obvious candidate for any of the three choices and I want to keep all three. So the first thing to do is look at trade value, and trying to free up some money. Can we get a good deal on Dalvin Cook? Paying a running back $12 million in the modern NFL isn’t a good idea. If we can find some value in a trade, Dalvin is the man to go. Roll with Mattison and Nwangwu and draft someone in the later rounds to compete with AJ Rose for a roster spot.
It is with a heavy heart that I choose to cut Michael Pierce. When he’s been on the field he has been a monster, but in this scenario, I can’t ignore how little time that has been. With $6.5 million saved, put that money towards finding a quality edge rusher and make Dalvin Tomlinson the nose tackle.
That leaves us with Eric Kendricks staying put in Minnesota. He perhaps wasn’t as consistently great as previous seasons but he made a career-high 143 tackles and a career-high five sacks. It’s time to draft a young stud to play next to him. Kendricks should remain the beating heart of the defense, with an extension until 2024.
Cut – Michael Pierce
Trade – Dalvin Cook
Extend – Eric Kendricks