The Vikings’ On-Field Leadership Will Look Very Different in 2023

The decision to move on from Adam Thielen and then Eric Kendricks wasn’t surprising. After all, both were a well-paid veterans whose performance is on a downward trajectory. Partner that reality with the snug cap and the cuts make some sense even if they are painful.

An overlooked side effect of these decisions is that the Vikings’ on-field leadership is going to look quite different in 2023. Making matters even worse is that Patrick Peterson – a 12-year veteran – will be heading to Pittsburgh.

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8), wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18), and wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) celebrate the win against the New England Patriots after the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

All three of Peterson, Kendricks, and Thielen had a “C” on their chest in 2022. Kendricks even called the defense, relaying the words from Ed Donatell to the rest of his teammates in the huddle. In 2023, the Vikings will need to be leaning on other players to fill the leadership gap.

Combined, the veteran CB, LB, and WR have played in 436 NFL games. Of those 436 games, there have been 398 starts among them. Folks, it’s near impossible to replace that kind of experience.

Thankfully, the Vikings’ are not a team devoid of leadership. Someone like Brian O’Neill stands out as an important player, both due to his excellent play as well as his ongoing status as one of the team’s main leaders. A captain in 2022, O’Neill is heading into a season when his leadership will be as important as ever.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings full back C.J. Ham (30) reacts to scoring a touchdown along with Minnesota Vikings tackle Brian O’Neill (75) during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Though he may not be extended, Kirk Cousins will still lead the offense. Harrison Smith is still in town, and the restructured deal means Jordan Hicks will be a key part of the defense in the upcoming season.

On offense, we should expect to see Justin Jefferson become a team captain. He’s heading for a massive contract extension and the GM has indicated that he’s even including the young WR in the roster construction conversations. If he can be trusted to have his voice heard for the direction of the franchise, Jefferson can be trusted to have a “C” on his jersey.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that we’re operating within the portion of the offseason when the roster is quite fluid. More subtractions will be made. Presumably, there will be an addition or two as Kwesi Adofo-Mensah builds up the roster for 2023 contention. The initial move was for TE Josh Oliver, but more is in the works.

In the end, we’re going to be left with a team that looks increasingly different from the one Rick Spielman built. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell are shaping the roster in their own image, a painful but necessary process.

By the time it’s all said and done, the team’s leadership is going to look different. Younger players like Jefferson, O’Neill, T.J. Hockenson, and Christian Darrisaw are both the present and the future in Minnesota.

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