Will the Rick Spielman Talent Exodus Continue in the Coming Weeks?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Since taking over, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has done a ton to move on from the Rick Spielman era.

The 2021 Minnesota Vikings looked considerably different. Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond were the main backup QBs. Dalvin Cook was the lead RB. Michael Pierce was looking like he could be a key defensive piece if he could stay healthy and Armon Watts was generating plenty of hype. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were the main linebacker pair and the team’s main corners were Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, Cameron Dantzler, Kris Boyd, and Harrison Hand.

Sep 19, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) delivers a stiff arm to Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland (21) en route to a touchdown during the second half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Clearly, things have been changing, but there’s still significant carryover even as we take stock of all that has changed.

Justin Jefferson isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the tackle tandem — Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill — and Garrett Bradbury actually got a new deal from Adofo-Mensah. If things proceed as expected, Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter will also stick around on extensions. Guys like C.J. Ham, Andrew DePaola, Josh Metellus, and Camryn Bynum continue to show that Spielman’s influence remains significant.

The Rick Spielman Talent Exodus

Make no mistake, though: Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is still in the process of implementing his vision for what the Minnesota Vikings should look like. Part of that plan will inevitably mean moving on from more of Spielman’s guys.

Lately, Harrison Smith has been getting a pile of attention. The franchise legend will end up in the Ring of Honor before long and will get consideration for the Hall of Fame. The issue is simply that he’ll be 35 at the beginning of February and is heading toward a cap charge at roughly $19.2 million. A simple cut would mean Minnesota’s budget gets a boost by more than $11 million.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell greets safety Harrison Smith (22) before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Hitman isn’t alone, though. Consider all of the players who were originally brought to The North Star State as a result of Mr. Spielman (courtesy of The Roster Tug of War piece):

  1. Brandel, Blake – Offensive Tackle
  2. Bynum, Camryn – Safety
  3. Darrisaw, Christian – Offensive Tackle
  4. Dye, Troy – Linebacker
  5. Jefferson, Justin – Wide Receiver
  6. Jones, Patrick – Edge Rusher
  7. Lynch, James – Defensive Tackle
  8. Nwangwu, Kene – Running Back/Kirk Returner
  9. Osborn, K.J. – Wide Receiver
  10. Wonnum, D.J. – Edge Rusher
  11. Bradbury, Garrett – Center
  12. Cousins, Kirk – Quarterback
  13. DePaola, Andrew – Long Snapper
  14. Ham, C.J. – Fullback
  15. Hunter, Danielle – Edge Rusher
  16. Joseph, Greg – Kicker
  17. Mattison, Alexander – Running Back
  18. Metellus, Josh – Safety
  19. O’Neill, Brian – Offensive Tackle
  20. Smith, Harrison – Safety
  21. Udoh, Oli – Offensive Tackle

Inevitably, some of these guys are going to need to proceed to new teams before too long.

Does D.J. Wonnum get a new deal? He’s working through a major injury, which is unfortunate timing since he’s going into free agency for the first time. He could still be a strong EDGE3, but much remains to be determined about the pass rusher’s future.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) in the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

James Lynch looks unlikely to be brought back since he struggled to distinguish himself before suffering a season-ending injury before the regular season began. Patrick Jones II could be retained as cheap depth at edge rusher, but he didn’t play very well in 2023. Kene Nwangwu has speed to spare but his job — kickoff return — is quickly becoming obsolete in the NFL.

Drafting Jefferson was arguably the greatest decision of Rick Spielman’s time as Minnesota’s GM. Once the extension gets done, #18 will serve as possibly the greatest bridge between the two eras.

NFL: New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (not shown) returns a kick for a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Jefferson extension, though, can only go so far. Change is afoot for the Vikings, and the coming weeks are only going to intensify the emphasis on that process.

The Vikings have roughly 25 players heading toward free agency, a group that contains a mixture of players originally onboarded by Adofo-Mensah or Spielman. And while there could be a slight bump in priority for the guys originally brought in by the new regime, the real goal is to turn the corner in 2024.

Yes, the GM’s desire is to soon be able to subtract the “competitive” from his now famous competitive rebuild, so he’ll be making some tremendously important decisions in the coming weeks. The end result will be a roster that’s looking more and more different from recent Vikings history.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference 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.