Cut day/the main reason anyone watches ‘Hard Knocks’ on HBO is here, and man is/was it a doozy. All off-season/pre-season anyone that works in Vikings “media” has talked about just how difficult today would be, considering all of the on-paper talent the Vikings have. Those decisions seemed to get more difficult as the pre-season progressed, especially at the quarterback position (which became the biggest point of contention and difference between Vikings management and the fanbase/fan media). However, the Vikings brass clarified exactly how they felt today as they whittled the roster down. So, I’ll break down three moves that I think are both the best talkers and areas where we can gain some insight as to what Zimmer/Spielman and company are thinking.
Of course when I allude to the fanbase’s feelings (as compared to the teams feeling towards certain players) I’m talking about Kyle Sloter, who through an amazing pre-season, suddenly became the player de jour for Vikings fans (especially after starting quarterback Kirk Cousins struggled mightily against the Cardinals Defense a week ago). So, let’s look at that move and some of the other moves the Vikings made and break down exactly what is going on.
To view the entire “final” 53-man roster, you can click here.
As I/most people presumed, the Vikings moved on from former first-round pick- Laquon Treadwell. The Vikings only kept four receivers, surprisingly, as most people thought they’d keep five (as they did in 2018, which was down from the six they’d kept in previous years). Those receivers were Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Chad Beebe and OlaBEASTi Johnson.
Bisi Johnson had an amazing pre-season, showing that he could fill-in all over the field (as a receiver and as a punt returner (who clearly wanted to prove his mettle by never fair catching the ball)). Beebe was expected to have an amazing pre-season after impressing during mini-camps and OTA’s, but he also stepped up as the holder for kicker Dan Bailey, which could result in being much more important than what he does with the offense, considering the kicking woes this team has had seemingly since the beginning of time.
But this is about Treadwell, who will go down as one of the bigger busts in Vikings history. Ironically, Treadwell had the best pre-season/camp of his career, which should help him land elsewhere in the league (potentially with Pat Shurmur and the Giants?). Word was that the Vikings were trying to trade him, and while it’s safe to say the Giants (and perhaps Seahawks) were kicking the tires/doing their due diligence, they clearly didn’t need to give up any draft picks for a player they knew that could pick up off of waivers if they just waited.
I hate to brag, but I did call this well before that draft- writing about Treadwell’s apparent limitations at the time (mostly pointing to his MockDraftable.com results (or lack thereof)). For a guy who was supposedly great at catching contested balls, you’d think that he’d have had great numbers in the vertical jump/upper-body strength department. This graph speaks for itself (despite that preface).
While Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has been borderline omnipotent when drafting defensive players, especially early in the draft, Treadwell is another in a long line of receivers that he has missed on with higher picks. For whatever reason, he likes receivers from the SEC, like Treadwell or Cordarrelle Patterson (or Jarius Wright, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin) and clearly none of those have worked out. Luckily for him and the team, later round or undrafted free agent receivers have stepped up in a big way. Stefon Diggs is the highest pick of the bunch, going in the fifth round and coming from Maryland (Big Ten). Olabisi Johnson was picked in the seventh round and played his college ball at Colorado State. Both Adam Thielen and Chad Beebe were undrafted and played at Mankato State and Northern Illinois, respectively.
Outside of the Kyle Sloter situation, perhaps the biggest surprise of cut day came from the kicking group. I spoke on KLGR radio’s ‘The Scoop” this week about the Vikings kicking situation and we found it both funny and infuriating (like a clown that gets #MeToo’d) that the leading segment was about the kicking situation. As most of you know, at least 90% of a kickers job happens between the ears and because of that a lot of them are very particular about every aspect of the kicking game.
Because of that, it’s not hard to see why veteran kicker Dan Bailey was reportedly having a hard time with punter Matt Wile’s holding style. Former (thank god) Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer “joked” last season that “apparently” Matt Wile had “never learned to hold”, which was actually the precipice for my article calling for him to be fired (something I NEVER do).
As the adage goes, there’s truth in jest and it was that and the continuous failure in the kicking and punting departments, which lead to near constant turnover, that made it a pretty obvious call (at least for me). With new special teams coach Marwan Maloouf I had hoped that there’d be some change in the department. Yet it seems like because of the failure at the position that started with Priefer, perhaps Zimmer and Spielman are focusing on it TOO much, and in a position where the key is consistency, that can just be too much.
The Vikings replaced their veteran long snapper with rookie Austin Cutting, and reportedly tried about half the team at the holding spot for Bailey. Now keep in mind that Bailey was the second most accurate kicker in the NFL EVER before joining the Vikings, so his 75% 2018 season and reported struggles this off-season point to something not being right.
Enter Kaare Vedvik, the apparent jack-of-all trades and master of none, who the Vikings spent a fifth-round pick on about a week ago.
Vedvik was thought to be the solution at either both the kicking and punting realm, or at at least one of them. Most people thought he’d end up as the punter and kick-off specialist, who might come in to kick field goals over 50 or 55 yards. But he missed his first three field goal attempts as a Vikings, because of course he did, and while he made a 27-yarder (which is so symbolic for obvious reasons), the Vikings realized they’d made a mistake and moved on from the Norwegian kicker.
It’s my strong belief that Bailey is the kicker this team needs. Now that he has Beebe as his holder, let’s hope that he’ll find some semblance of normalcy so he can get closer to his career average than he was in 2018.
If there’s one player that personified the divide between the belief that the fan base has and the team itself has, it’s clearly quarterback Kyle Sloter. If you were to run a poll of the fan-base I’d put money on over 25% of fans wanting Sloter to not only be the back-up quarterback for the Vikings (over Sean Mannion), but also the starter over Cousins (especially after his 3-of-13 performance against the Cardinals last weekend). So, it’s not surprising that there was a mini-revolt online (at least on our live chat/message board) when the team announced they had waived Sloter. It was reported before that that the Vikings were looking for a trade partner for Sloter, which made it less surprising that they’d moved on from him.
I also wasn’t as surprised as others were simply because I’d read/heard what Zimmer had said about Sloter recently. He clearly wasn’t happy with Sloter’s game/clock management abilities, and considering that he’d been with the team since 2017, you’d think that he’d have nailed down some of the other responsibilities that a professional quarterback has. Now, I am playing devil’s advocate a bit here, but Zimmer is a stickler for those sort of things, especially as this team’s success is predicated on time of possession and field position.
Now, clearly Sloter is a gamer and outside of one delay of game, it didn’t appear that any of the things Zimmer griped about actually manifested during, you know, games, but clearly Zimmer felt that way for a reason so while fans are going to hate this move (especially if Cousins bombs this season), the writing was on the wall about a week ago.
Sidenote, the Vikings spent some of their very limited cap space this off-season on Mannion, so he clearly had something that they wanted and weren’t willing to part with.
To be fair, Mannion had a good pre-season and camp (after starting out a bit slow) and he also seems to fit the scheme well (or at least he’s more like Cousins in how he plays than Sloter is). Sloter was closer to Case Keenum, with his ability to evade pressure and extend plays, and with a young and unproven offensive line, you might actually need that. So remember this transaction as the season progresses, especially if a team (like the Colts) picks up Sloter and he succeeds.
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