Does Beloved Vikings Playmaker Finally Get Cut?

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

An undrafted free agent from 2016, C.J. Ham has exceeded all expectations.

The beloved Vikings playmaker has been with just a single team in his career: his hometown Minnesota Vikings. Originally from Duluth, Ham has been employed by the Vikings for eight seasons. Harrison Smith is the longest-tenured player at twelve seasons, but Ham is taking the silver medal. Does the fullback make it to nine years in the NFL? Does he do so with a Vikings horn on his helmet?

Beloved Vikings Playmaker C.J. Ham:
Does He Fit The Direction of the 2024 Vikings?

Consider the broader context of the offseason.

Gone are Danielle Hunter, Kirk Cousins, and Jordan Hicks, all of whom provided tremendous leadership. So, too, was K.J. Osborn someone who led his teammates and other stalwarts from the former era — D.J. Wonnum, Troy Dye, Oli Udoh — ended up finding work elsewhere.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) crosses the goal line for a 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The end result is a very different feel in Minnesota. Slowly, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell have been changing things, but the 2024 spring and summer has been a climactic moment (which was part of the plan for the GM).

Does moving on from C.J. Ham simply continue the momentous change that’s already underway?

After all, O’Connell hasn’t exactly been fond of running the football. Initially, O’Connell’s offense ran the football just 404 times, finishing in a tie for 28th in the NFL. The 2023 offseason arrived and there were prophecies about how that was going to change. Alexander Mattison was the new RB1, Josh Oliver was the blocking bully at tight end, and Ham was retained to keep being a thumper.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham (left) hugs running back Alexander Mattison (2) after losing a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of running more, the Vikings ran less.

Once again, Minnesota finished 28th in the NFL for rushing attempts, but their overall total took a step back: just 393 attempts. Part of what makes the total so wild is that they worked through half a season of QB turmoil. Wouldn’t that have been the time to lean on the ground game?

Minnesota is going to continue being a team that prefers to pass the football. Yes, Sam Darnold is going to be a step back from Kirk Cousins, but O’Connell wants to lean on the pass while rolling with plenty of 11 personnel and 12 personnel. Where does that leave the fullback?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (59) tackles Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham (30) during their football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Wm. Glasheen-USA TODAY Sports

Ham played in all seventeen games in 2022 while starting four. He picked up just 15% of the offense’s snaps by jumping into 169 plays for O’Connell. Things were a little better in 2023. Across seventeen games and five starts, Ham was involved in 19% of the offense’s snaps by getting onto the field for 216 plays.

It’s worth noting, however, that his share of the special teams plays went down.

Ham was involved in 66% — 324 plays — of the special teams snaps in 2022. Fast forward to 2023 and things dipped to 56% — 244 plays — for Mr. Ham. The decreased role on special teams may be explained by the larger role on offense, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind. So much of Ham’s value to the Vikings is that he does multiple things well, a truth that extends to both offense and special teams.

Last year, Ham’s soft hands only caught 7 passes for a measly 25 yards. He has never been a burner and he’s listed at 5’11”, 250, but the 3.6 yards-per-catch average is discouraging. In neither the air nor on the ground did he score a touchdown. Surprisingly enough, Ham was on the field for 154 passing snaps versus just 65 running snaps, suggesting he helps to block for the QB more than the RB.

C.J. Ham will turn 31 on July 22nd and it’s worth remembering that the current regime gave him an extension. On March 24, 2023, the team announced the new deal. So, the current leadership regime is invested in him even if his career could be heading toward a crossroads.

At the very least, he’s closer to the end than the beginning. Someday, he could be a tremendous coach; he has been in so many different offenses — his OCs have been numerous, to say the least — and he is a great leader. His playing days aren’t done yet, though.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 25, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to hand the ball off to fullback C.J. Ham (30) against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

A post-June 1 cut would give the Vikings $2.5 million in cap space, open room that’s not desperately needed but which could be carried over. The downside would be $766,666 in added dead money for 2024 alongside a near identical number for 2025.

One wonders, then, about the various factors swirling around the veteran fullback.

Aaron Jones is being entrusted with reinvigorating the run game and may benefit from having someone in front of him to clear running lanes. Ham can help with pass pro and with chipping defensive ends. He can play all over the special teams, do a bit of damage around the goal line, and catch the occasional pass. All while being a tremendous leader.

The downside is that he occupies a roster spot with a position that’s been fading in importance and he gobbles up a medium amount of cap space. Plus, he’s getting older and his usage on special teams sunk a bit. PFF gave him a humdrum 57.6 grade, a score dragged down by a 43.8 receiving grade.

But while a cut wouldn’t be shocking, the likeliest option is still that C.J. Ham sticks around. He’s a cherished part of the team, a truth that applies to fans as well as teammates and coaches. Look for another season with Mr. Ham putting in work for the Vikings.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, 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.