Analysis

Vikings Might Finally Blow Up Roster During 2023 Offseason

There is potential for the Minnesota Vikings to do something this offseason. Something big.

Last year when the Vikings hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their general manager, he was a very outside-the-box type of hire, a guy who was very into analytics and numbers, and people thought Minnesota would change the way it operated.

Instead of doing that, Adofo-Mensah continued to go all-in with the roster he inherited from the previous regime. He even added more veterans, guys including edge Za’Darius Smith and linebacker Jordan Hicks.

But here we are this offseason after the Vikings won 11 one-score games in 2022 but lost in the first round to the New York Giants at home. It was a very disappointing end to a 13-4 regular season.

When you look at the Vikings’ roster and the contracts they have on the books, there are a handful of players they can move on from, and if they want to blow it all up, there is potential to do that this year as well.

Contracts Vikings Could Cut

>> The Vikings can move on from running back Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 1,173 yards and accounted for 10 touchdowns, and save about $8 million.

>> Smith, who had 10 sacks and was a Pro Bowl pick, had a good start to the season but was a bit of a no-show the rest of the way. They can move on from him and save about $12 million.

>> Linebacker Eric Kendricks has been tremendous for them for many years and led them with 87 solo tackles, but they can move on and save about $10 million.

>> Hicks was a free-agent signing last year and contributed 86 solo tackles, but Minnesota can move on and save about $5 million.

>> Safety Harrison Smith, a former first-round pick and two-time All-Pro who has been selected to six Pro Bowls, could be designated as a post-June 1 cut, which would save another $15 million.

So if Adofo-Mensah wants to go in and change course, he has the ability to do that this offseason.

Contracts Vikings Could Hand Out

There are a bunch of Vikings players who will need new contracts. One will be Justin Jefferson, who more than likely will soon become the highest-paid receiver in the NFL. He could aim for $30 million or more per year.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson, whom Minnesota acquired from the Detroit Lions at the trade deadline, might aim to become the highest-paid tight end in a market that has not moved like other markets. The Vikings gave up quite a bit of draft capital to obtain him, and he responded with 60 catches and 519 yards in 10 games.

>> READ: Kirk Cousins Just Outside Top 10 in 2023 QB Rankings

Offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland, who was a second-round pick in 2020, is another candidate for an extension, and quarterback Kirk Cousins has one year left on his contract. What will the Vikings do with him? Does he get another year, another fully-guaranteed deal?

There are a lot of questions about how Minnesota will handle this offseason. This roster has been intact for asso many years, dating back to when Rick Spielman was the Vikings’ general manager.

Is this the year that the Vikings finally blow it up and try to reset it? What Minnesota does this offseason will be fascinating, and it’s not being talked about enough.

WATCH: Vikings Could Trade up for QB in Draft

Analysis

Adding Brian Flores Is Good Start, but Vikings Need Defensive Overhaul

Well, I know Minnesota Vikings fans are upset about the way the 2022 season ended, especially because they know things were going so well on the offensive side of the ball.

On the defensive side of the ball, I think people are very frustrated. They were near the bottom of the league in most of the important categories: yards per game, points per game, yards per play, passing yards allowed per game and per play.

Much of the blame was placed on defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who was fired last month after just one season in Minneapolis. And as a result, Vikings fans are excited that Brian Flores was been hired as the new defensive coordinator.

Flores Brings Defensive Background

Flores is a guy who played linebacker at Boston College under Tom O’Brien, a hard-nosed defensive guy himself. And after college, he spent a lot of time with the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. He quickly moved up through that defensive staff, and in 2019, he was chosen as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

One thing that has stayed consistent for Flores is that he likes to focus on pressure. That is the one aspect of the defense that frustrated Vikings fans more than anything else last season — there wasn’t enough pressure. The defense was playing too soft in a lot of situations.

With Flores’ commitment to pressure, Vikings fans have very good reason to be excited about Kevin O’Connell adding him to the coaching staff.

More Personnel Moves Needed

The way he ran his scheme, Donatell deserves some of the blame for how the season went. But there were also some personnel issues on the defensive side of the ball. Look at the linebacker position, especially Eric Kendricks. He’s a veteran you thought you could count on, but he really struggled in pass coverage this past year.

Cornerback is part of the reason Donatell didn’t really want to bring a lot of pressure and didn’t want to use a lot of man-to-man defense last year. He didn’t feel he had the players there.

Patrick Peterson has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league for a long time, but I think he certainly has aged quite a bit. Although his play improved throughout the course of the season, he’s not the kind of guy you’re going to want to line up in man-to-man coverage all day long. Cameron Dantzler had his shining moments but could not stay healthy.

At the safety position, Harrison Smith has a really big cap number; they’re going to be looking at that. And Lewis Cine got injured this past year. Hopefully, they’ll have him back.

You also have to look at the offensive side of the ball.

Adam Thielen has one of the highest cap hits ($19.87 million) of any wide receiver in the NFL, and is second on the team behind only Kirk Cousins. You have to take a look at that. You have to take a look at Cousins’ number ($36.25 million), you have to look at Dalvin Cook’s number ($14.1 million).

The bottom line, though, is that the defense is going to need some improvement. You have to look at some of the contracts, even with Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter, and decide whether you want to keep these players.

Lots of Work Ahead

The Vikings, as of right now, are around $23 million over the cap (only the Buccaneers and Saints are worse), so they’re going to have to make some decisions very quickly.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah came in last year as the general manager, and everybody was excited about that. But now he’s going to have to earn his pay. The Vikings are going to need some new personnel on the defensive side of the ball, and that might mean some defensive players are going to be gone or have their contracts renegotiated. It also means some players on the offensive side of the ball may have to have their numbers reduced or cut entirely to allow the Vikings the space under the cap to do what they need to do.

The draft is a big part of it, too. I think, like last year going with Cine, they’ll pick on the defensive side of the ball. They’ll probably even go in the secondary again, but I’m guessing this time it will be a cornerback.

 

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