Who Will Be the Next Vikings Cut?
We’ve expected for awhile that the 2023 offseason could be a period where the Minnesota Vikings purge some of their older players in favor of youth, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. On Monday, the dam finally burst with the Vikings announcing that they would be parting ways with linebacker Eric Kendricks that saves them $9.5 million against the salary cap.
With the roster moves officially beginning to come in, the question must be asked, who could be the next Vikings cut? In order to answer that question, we have to take into account a few factors:
- Depth at position
In order for a roster cut to make sense, first and foremost, it has to be an older player whose contract value no longer matches the value that they bring to the field. There are a few players that have been rumored to be potential cut candidates because of this. To name a few:
- RB Dalvin Cook
- S Harrison Smith
- WR Adam Thielen
For now, I think we can cross Harrison Smith off that list simply because if he is no longer on the roster, the Vikings safety room consists of Cam Bynum, Lewis Cine, and Josh Metellus. Bynum started every game in 2022 during his second NFL season, but Cine has never made an NFL start while Metellus has been little more than a depth piece throughout his first three NFL seasons.
Rather than a cut, it may make more sense for the Vikings to restructure Smith’s contract in order to save money from his current $19.1 million cap hit. That way they keep their veteran playmaker for at least one more season while also freeing up space to sign other free agents.
That leaves two players on the offensive side of the ball as the obvious choices in Cook and Thielen. Cook recorded 1000 rushing yards for the fourth consecutive season in 2022, but it was the least efficient year of his career as he averaged just 4.4 yards per carry.
The Vikings could save about $7.9 million if they cut Cook, bringing them ever closer to salary cap compliance. However, again, it seems difficult to justify getting rid of him yet. Alexander Mattison also hits free agency this offseason, leaving just Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu as the other running backs in Minnesota’s backfield. The two of them have combined for 34 touches in their careers.
Unless the Vikings have a sure backup plan for where they want to get the majority of their touches from in the backfield, there is reason to keep Cook around. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at the Vikings wide receiver room.
Obviously, Justin Jefferson is the premier player for Minnesota here, but they also have K.J. Osborn as an option; T.J. Hockenson will get targets at tight end. Additionally, Jalen Nailor could have a growing role in 2023 with the offense, and the Vikings are in prime position to get a wide receiver in the draft with one of their top picks.
Because of that, Thielen makes the most sense as the next Vikings cut. The 32-year-old receiver (will be 33 by the time the 2023 season begins) caught 70 passes for 716 yards and 6 TDs. These are all career-lows among seasons where he started at least 14 games. The touchdown total is an especially big drop off after recording 24 combined TDs in 2020 and 2021 and being one of the most consistent red zone receivers in the NFL.
Thielen is also set to carry a cap hit of nearly $20 million in 2023. His production in 2022 simply doesn’t warrant being paid that much next season, so it makes sense if the Vikings move on from the veteran receiver this offseason.
Of course, Thielen will always be considered one of the favorites among this Vikings team. After attending Minnesota State-Mankato, he was brought onto the Vikings roster as an undrafted free agent where he slowly worked his way through the ranks to be one of the better receivers in the NFL. His story is truly a success, and one that should only be looked back on fondly.
That being said, we’ve already seen the Vikings begin parting ways with fan favorites by cutting Kendricks. It’s clear that this leadership group of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell are looking to get younger, cheaper, and faster players to take over bigger roles on the roster. Don’t be surprised if Thielen is one of the next players cut ahead of free agency.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken