We’ve hoped for a while that the 2023 offseason could be a period where the Minnesota Vikings purge some of their older players in favor of youth, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. On Monday, the dam finally broke and the Vikings announced they would part ways with linebacker Eric Kendricks, saving him $9.5 million against the salary cap.
With the roster moves officially underway, the question must be asked is who could be the next Vikings? To answer that question, we need to take into account a few factors:
- depth in position
For a roster cut, first and foremost, it has to be an older player whose contract value doesn’t match the value they bring to the field. Because of this there are a few players who are rumored to be potential cut candidates. to name a few:
- RB Dalvin Cook
- S. Harrison Smith
- WR Adam Thielen
For now, I think we can cross Harrison Smith off that list simply because if he is no longer on the roster, the Vikings’ safety room consists of Cam Bynum, Lewis Caine, and Josh Metellus. Bynum started every game in 2022 during his second NFL season, but Caine never made an NFL start, while Metellus has been little more of a depth in his first three NFL seasons.
Instead of cuts, it might make more sense for the Vikings to restructure Smith’s contract to save money from his current $19.1 million cap hit. That way they keep their veteran playmaker for at least one more season while freeing up space to sign other free agents.
That leaves two players on the offensive side of the ball as obvious options in Cook and Thielen. Cooks recorded 1000 rushing yards for the fourth consecutive season in 2022, but it was the least efficient year of his career as he averaged only 4.4 yards per carry.
The Vikings could save about $7.9 million by cutting Cook, moving them closer to salary cap compliance. Although, again, getting rid of him seems hard to justify yet. Alexander Mattison also hits free agency this offseason, leaving only Tye Chandler and Kene Nwangwu as the other running backs in Minnesota’s backfield. The two of them have combined for 34 touchdowns in their careers.
Unless the Vikings have a definite backup plan where they want to get most of their touches from the backfield, there’s reason to keep Cooks around. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the Vikings’ wide receiver room.
Obviously, Justin Jefferson is Minnesota’s key player here, but they also have KJ Osborne as an option; TJ Hockenson will find the target at tight end. Additionally, Jalen Naylor could have an increased role with the offense in 2023, and the Vikings are in prime position to acquire a wide receiver in the draft with one of their top picks.
Because of that, Thielen makes the most sense as the next Vikings cut. The 32-year-old receiver (will be 33 by the time the 2023 season starts) caught 70 passes for 716 yards and 6 TDs. These are career lows in all seasons where he started at least 14 games. The touchdown total is an especially big drop after recording 24 combined TDs in 2020 and 2021 and being one of the most consistent red zone receivers in the NFL.
Thielen is also set to carry a cap hit of about $20 million in 2023. His production in 2022 isn’t going to pay off as much next season, so it makes sense that the Vikings move on from the veteran receiver this off-season.
Of course, Thielen will always be considered one of the favorites among this Vikings team. After attending Minnesota State–Mankato, he was brought onto the Vikings’ roster as an undrafted free agent, where he slowly worked his way through the ranks to become the better receiver in the NFL. His story is indeed a success, and one that should only be treated with love.
That being said, we have already seen the Vikings begin to part ways with a fan favorite by cutting Kendricks. It is clear that this leadership group of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell is looking for young, cheap and fast players to take bigger roles on the roster. Don’t be surprised if Thielen is one of the next players to come forward from free agency.
Josh Frey is a 2020 graduate of the College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing, When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken