The Vikings’ Top 5 Cut Candidates

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

Saving money. Often, that’s the main goal with a cut. The Vikings’ top cut candidates reflect that reality.

Minnesota is sitting on close to $25 million in cap space but will be looking to get that number much higher. In the past, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has added cap room incrementally. He doesn’t make every cost-cutting move at once, instead making a decision or two at a time while patiently surveying the free agency market.

Mar 1, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah during the NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

By the time March gets going, we’ll gain more clarity about what Adofo-Mensah is going to do to save money. Last year, Eric Kendricks was let go on March 6th. Adam Thielen got cut on March 10th. The suggestion is that we’re roughly a month away from getting some firm news on cuts, especially for players who have been around the franchise for a while.

Until then, consider some of the main players who will be considered for a roster cut.

The Vikings’ Top 5 Cut Candidates

Kene Nwangwu, Running Back/Kick Returner
Cut Savings: $1,055,000

Dec 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Reason to Cut: His breakneck speed has never translated into becoming a threat on offense. He has now worked under two coaching staffs and hasn’t been able to emerge for either, picking up just 27 carries in his career for a modest 88 yards. The 3.3 yards-per-carry average shouldn’t follow someone who is, without exaggeration, one of the fastest players in the NFL. Even worse is that kickoffs are diminishing in importance. If kickoffs keep losing significance, can Nwangwu continue justifying a roster spot?

Reason to Keep: Blazing fast speed. He’s still only 25 (turns 26 in a couple days) and can contribute in other areas on special teams. Climbing to the very top of the NFL means getting an edge in any way possible. Employing a true speed demon is one tiny way of doing so for Minnesota. And, perhaps, there could still be some hope that he finds a way of putting it together on offense. Plus, a cut doesn’t free up very much, especially when we remember that most of the savings will get gobbled up by even the lowest-level contract replacement.

Patrick Jones, Edge Rusher
Cut Savings: $1,324,104

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Patrick Jones II (91) enters the field before the first half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Reason to Cut: Jones had an excellent opportunity to take a Year-3 leap but mostly fell flat. He played in a career-high 635 snaps, more than doubling the 306 from 2022. His sack total still dropped from 4 to 1. His tackles saw a modest increase, jumping from 27 to 32. Overall, though, Jones struggled to distinguish himself even as the Vikings needed a pile of help at his position following some significant injuries. Even worse, he was brought in by the former regime, so there likely isn’t a ton of loyalty in Eagan.

Reason to Keep: Right now, the Vikings only have Patrick Jones II and Andre Carter II — the UDFA who is entering his sophomore season — under contract at edge rusher. Should they really let go of a 25-year-old with close to 1,500 NFL snaps? He was a 3rd-round selection (90th overall) back in 2021. Simply letting him play out the final season on his rookie contract isn’t the worst idea in the world. Maybe he takes a step.

Nick Mullens, Quarterback
Cut Savings: $1,855,000

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) looks to pass against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Reason to Cut: Depending on how things proceed, the Vikings’ QB spot could get crowded in a hurry. Kirk Cousins wants to come back and the team wants him back. If the money impasse gets solved, then Minnesota finds itself at a trio (don’t forget Jaren Hall, someone whom Minnesota will be reluctant to move on from given his status as a draft pick). What would they do if an excellent option emerged in the draft? If three’s a crowd, then four is crowded. A simple cut would put much-needed money back into Kwesi’s pocket.

Reason to Keep: He’s an ideal QB2. He’s capable of pushing the ball down the field, allowing Minnesota’s abundant skill to keep feasting. His teammates like him a lot (and so do the coaches). Mullens could even have value as a trade candidate later on, so a cut doesn’t make a pile of sense unless there’s a major cap crunch or issue with carrying (potentially) four QBs. Truth be told, a cut would be pretty shocking. Mullens could even be a bridge QB if Cousins doesn’t get brought back.

Dean Lowry, Defensive Tackle/End
Cut Savings: $2,082,353

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Dean Lowry (94) and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Reason to Cut: The veteran disappointed last season, failing to pickup a sack or tackle for a loss. In fact, he didn’t have a single QB hit. He was signed so that he could be a pass-rushing threat as a 3T/5T. Instead, he was mostly ineffective before needing to be placed on injured reserve. He’ll be 30 in June, so he’s getting closer to the end of his career. He looks like a free agency whiff from the GM.

Reason to Keep: The Vikings love players who offer versatility. At 6’6″, 296, Lowry has the size to move up and down the defensive line. True, the trip over to Minnesota was a challenge, but it’s possible that a second season doing work for Brian Flores will allow for a bit more production from Lowry. The front seven is working through a transition phase, so having a veteran who can do several different things could be of value. A cut leaves behind $2,400,000 in dead money.

Harrison Smith, Safety
Cut Savings: $11,384,116

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 31, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) enters the stadium before the game against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Reason to Cut: Almost purely financial. Clearing close to $11.4 million off the books makes a pile of sense. There are questions about being able to retain Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter. Justin Jefferson needs his extension and Christian Darrisaw isn’t too far behind. Given the roster context, can the Vikings justify the close to $20 million to an aging safety? After all, the position already boasts plenty of youth — Josh Metellus, Camryn Bynum, Lewis Cine, and Jay Ward — so Smith’s hold on the roster is precarious.

Reason to Keep: He’s a franchise legend who offers a ton of wisdom to a secondary that’s being rebuilt. Flores asks him to blitz and play near the line of scrimmage, which is something he’s still pretty good at doing. He’s a captain who is a cherished player in the locker room and among the fans. Would a pay cut make more sense?

Cumulative Cap Savings with All Five Cuts: $17,700,573

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.