Is Time Running Out for Lewis Cine, The Benched Sophomore Safety?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Only 24, Lewis Cine still has plenty of years ahead of him in the NFL. One does wonder, though, if he’s getting near the end of his time with the Vikings.

The first draft pick of the Kwesi Adofo-Mensah era — 32nd overall in the 2022 NFL Draft — Cine has failed to distinguish himself as a sophomore. He consistently received praise during the spring and summer due to his commitment to attacking his injury rehab and his willingness to stick around the team facility to put in work toward a bounce back season.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) warms up before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

What has long been evident, though, is simply that the Vikings’ coaching staff doesn’t have a ton of confidence in the young safety.

The 2023 season has featured just five games for Cine. In fairness, some of his absence has been due to injury, but he has been a healthy scratch on a regular basis. Meanwhile, the top trio of Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum, and Josh Metellus have been thriving for Minnesota. Theo Jackson and Jay Ward have become stalwarts for Matt Daniels and the special teams.

Minnesota is carrying six safeties on their roster. The top five — Smith, Bynum, Metellus, Jackson, and Ward — have been active for all thirteen games. Only Cine has been excluded on a regular basis.

Does Lewis Cine Have a Future in Minnesota?

The tackling during the preseason was an issue.

Lewis Cine came in far too high on his hits. In college, the defender’s size and speed may have allowed him to get away with the poor form, but that’s a difficult technique to carry into the NFL. Basically everyone in the league possesses an unusual blend of size and speed. Having proper technique is therefore a necessity for the vast majority of players at any position (Randall McDaniel’s stance being a notable exception).

Jul 27, 2022; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) performs a drill at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

In theory, Cine should be a perfect gunner. He’s super aggressive and super fast. Partner those realities with some great length and he should, at the very least, be making a name for himself as a special teams stud.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening. His special teams snaps sit at 59 for the season. Ward sits at 221 and Jackson comes in at 225, numbers that easily leave Cine’s in the dust. And, of course, that’s not even accounting for NaJee Thompson, who is on the roster solely for his special teams contributions. The backup corner has been on the field for 154 snaps with the specials.

Kevin O’Connell has commonly pointed to his confidence in the safety position as a whole, but it’s tough to believe that the sentiment extends to the sophomore. Actions speak louder than words in the NFL, and the actual decisions from the team’s coaching staff suggest there isn’t much belief in Cine.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback NaJee Thompson (11) warms up before a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Even more troubling is the reality on defense.

The defensive coordinator who loves playing his safeties and who loves deploying players who can fly all over the field hasn’t found any time for Lewis Cine. Literally. Cine has had 0 snaps on defense. Coming off a season with only 2 defensive snaps, Cine somehow isn’t on pace to overcome the modest start to his career.

All of this brings things around to what the future holds in Minnesota for Cine. True, he was a 1st-round selection, so a lot of people are nervous about moving on too quickly. Don’t forget, though, that before becoming an NFL executive, the GM was a Wall Street investor. Adofo-Mensah understands the sunk cost fallacy.

Draft Prospect
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota used a very valuable pick on Cine, but that’s in the past. There’s nothing that can be done to undo that decision. The real choice, then, comes down to whether Cine is capable of helping the Vikings in the present and in the future. If the answer is no, then the GM will very likely explore a trade. After all, keeping Cine means cap space and a roster spot that can’t be used elsewhere.

And, to be sure, there are going to be GMs in the NFL who would be interested in acquiring the young defender. Minnesota wasn’t the only team to have a favorable view of the safety. Getting anything close to a 1st-round selection isn’t happening, but there could still be some value in a swap.

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings safety Theo Jackson (25) and safety Josh Metellus (44) during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Unless something unforeseen happens, Metellus (25) and Bynum (25) will be the future at safety for the Vikings. Jackson (25) has a shot of getting worked into the mix and Ward (23) has done several things well in his rookie season. And, of course, there’s the ongoing presence of The Hitman (34), who could stick around if he agrees to a hefty pay cut.

When it comes to Lewis Cine, though, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll be able to keep hanging onto a roster spot. Sitting on nine selections in the upcoming draft and a good chunk of cap space, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has made a concerted effort to give himself plenty of resources to take the next step in his competitive rebuild during the 2024 offseason.

Cine, perhaps, sticks around as a young player who still has humongous upside. Cine, perhaps, gets moved to keep adding onto the picks and cap space. Giving us further clues for either direction will be the gameday decisions and playing time allocation in the coming weeks.

No doubt, he has a ton of talent and works very hard. Regardless of where he plays in the future, the hope is certainly that Lewis Cine is given ample opportunity to show what he’s capable of doing so that he can have a long NFL career.

The Vikings and Bengals begin their Week 15 tilt at 12 p.m. CST on Saturday, December 16th.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference 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.