The 2022 season has just ended and as of March 13, the 2023 campaign will open its doors. DNA of Sports therefore takes the opportunity to offer you an overview of the different franchises during the off-season. Which players to keep and cut? Which free agents to extend? Which rookies to watch? Here are some ideas, franchise by franchise. In the spotlight today, the Minnesota Vikings.
With a record of 13 wins for 4 losses, the Vikings come out of a successful 2022 regular season. However, the general impression left, as well as a premature elimination in the play-offs, gave the impression that this team was not at the level of its balance sheet.
Leaded by his defense, Minnesota will also be weighed down by his salary cap. With a current deficit of $13.7 million, the Vikings will have to, as they did recently with Kendricks, part with some of their veterans, at the risk of weakening the 31th league defense.
Fortunately for them, the purples managed to attract, with Brian Flores, a renowned defensive coordinator. Between cuts, restructuring and contract extensions, several solutions are available to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, the general manager of the franchise. It’s up to him to find the best way to balance his team.
- Justin Jefferson (WR)
- Christian Darrisaw (LT)
- Kirk Cousins (QB)
Offensive player of the year, Justin Jefferson is the figurehead of this team. The league’s best receiver has proven indispensable in moving the chains, evidenced by his incredible productivity. Over three seasons, he is, with 4,825 yards, the best receiver in NFL history. Second, Randy Moss is pushed back more than 600 yards. If he had a little trouble being found in the end zone, Jefferson nevertheless remains the key player for this team, as he proved in Buffalo.
Struggling on his line for years, Minnesota finally seems to have found his left tackle. For his second season, Christian Darrisaw proved to be impassable for a good part of the year. Diminished by two concussions suffered in two weeks, the former Virginia Tech had a more complicated end to the season. It will be hoped for him and the Vikings that he will not be affected by the Matt Kalil syndrome.
Rarely brilliant, rarely mediocre, often criticized, Kirk Cousins was productive in 2022, well helped by Jefferson. Fourth in yards, fifth in touchdowns, Cousins justified his contract, he who will be the sixth highest paid quarterback in the league in 2023. Never injured, Cousins has only missed two games in five seasons with Minnesota. His regularity and his solidity make him a leader of this franchise.
- Dalvin Cook (RB)
- Adam Thielen (WR)
- Harrison Smith (SS)
We are talking here about three players who have each marked the recent history of the franchise and who remain very popular with fans. The term “undesirable” is therefore a bit strong concerning them. However, with advancing age, these former owners are no longer able to justify such a weight on a salary cap that must be put on a diet.
The latest echoes from Cook seem to suggest that his future is not in Minnesota. The running back is reportedly unwilling to take a pay cut, and his impact on the team’s salary cap is greater than his last ball-in-hand outings. Too often diminished by a shoulder injury that he drags like a ball and chain, Cook seems to have lost the explosiveness that made him a player apart. By releasing him, the Vikings would recoup nearly $8 million.
Adam Thielen is the child of the country. He’s supposed to be untouchable. But in the NFL, nobody is. Despite an injury-free season, for the first time since 2018, the Minnesota State alum had one of his worst seasons in 2022. Having played four more games than in 2021, he covered 10 yards and scored 4 fewer touchdowns. Passed number 3 in the order of targets since the arrival of TJ Hockenson, Thielen could well be pushed towards the exit. Second player with the most impact on the salary cap, only a restructuring of his contract could save his future in Minnesota.
As with Cook and Thielen, seeing Harrison Smith leave would be heartbreaking for Vikings fans. But as with the other two, Smith is seriously starting to see the weight of the years impacting his level. In distress like the entire defensive squad in 2022, the safety could allow Minnesota to recover 7 million by releasing him. With the Lewis Cine draft last season, Smith’s replacement is already here. As for Thielen, a restructuring is possible, which would have the advantage of saving 9 million.
The summer man
Brian Flores (defensive coordinator)
He could have found a position as head coach, but it is ultimately as defensive coordinator that Brian Flores will continue to show his skills. And to straighten the defense of the Vikings, he will have to show a lot of talent.
His predecessor, Ed Donatell, crystallized all the criticism, held mainly responsible for the defensive bankruptcy in 2021. Coming from Pittsburgh, Flores will have to right the ship and renew the crew to avoid sinking. So far, Eric Kendricks has been released, Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson have not been extended, and Harrison Smith may well be fired to balance the books.
Faced with so many uncertainties, Brian Flores will have all summer to concoct a squad capable of not putting the full weight of the match on the attack. If he succeeds, then it will be unimaginable that he is not given another chance as head coach.
The main free agents
- Dalvin Tomlinson (DT)
- Patrick Peterson (CB)
- Garrett Bradbury (C)
- Alexander Mattison (RB)
- Irv Smith Jr (TE)
The others: Greg Joseph (K), Duke Shelley (CB), Nick Mullens (QB), Chandon Sullivan (CB), Oli Udoh (OT), Kris Boyd (CB), Olabisi Johnson (WR), Jonathan Bullard (DE) , Austin Schlottmann (OG), Andrew DePaola (LS), Blake Brandel (OT), Ben Ellefson (TE)
The Vikings haven’t completely given up on Tomlinson yet. While the start of his “void” contract was scheduled for the end of February, it was postponed to March 15, giving both parties more time to find an agreement. It seemed unlikely to see Patrick Peterson extend, but the latest rumors suggest that Brian Flores would like to keep him.
On the offensive side, Garrett Bradbury has shown progress in his fourth year and the Vikings could try to extend it, while they did not opt for the automatic extension in the fifth year. Bradbury would be tempted to see what he could get on the market.
The fate of Alexander Mattison will most certainly be linked to that of Dalvin Cook. If the latter is maintained, Mattison will leave. For Irv Smith Jr, his repeated injuries as well as the arrival of Hockenson have sealed his future which will not be in Minnesota.
The top 5 needs
- Inside the defensive line
- Running back
This top 5 needs takes into account the current workforce, considering that no free player will be extended given the state of the salary cap. From there, the cornerback position is a top priority. If the season started tomorrow, Minnesota would leave with Cameron Dantzler and Andrew Booth Jr as starters.
Kendricks’ departure leaves a huge hole in the middle of the Vikings defense. Even if his last season was complicated, the former UCLA was, with one exception, the best tackle in the franchise since entering the league in 2015. At center, only Josh Sokol is under contract. The latter has never played a single second in the NFL. Extending Bradbury or finding a replacement for him is therefore essential.
The interior of the defensive line is also to be considered in the event of Tomlinson’s departure. Currently, only Harrison Phillips has the shoulders of a credible starter. Finally, the Vikings will have to make a choice between Cook and Mattison. Losing both might even be possible. Whatever decision Adofo-Mensah makes, a new running back is sure to be packing his bags in Minnesota.
Cameron Sutton (CB)
More than ever limited by its salary cap, Minnesota will not be able to fight for the most requested players during this free agency. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could then be tempted by players like Cameron Sutton. With 43 tackles, 3 interceptions and 15 passes defended, the cornerback is coming off his best season.
He also has the advantage of knowing Brian Flores well, since he also comes from the Steelers. According to Spotrac, Sutton can expect a 3-year, $23 million deal, which could suit the Vikings’ low budget.
The new blood
Trenton Simpson (LB)
Assuming air cover needs have been met by free agency, Minnesota can look to another draft position. With the 23rd choice, the Vikings could well be tempted by Trenton Simpson. Versatile, fast and an excellent tackler, the former Clemson could bring a lot to a defense that needs new blood.
With Brian Flores, coach of the linebackers from 2016 to 2018 on the New England side, Simpson could also find in Minnesota the ideal coach to help him develop his qualities.
Other possible choices: Emmanuel Forbes (CB), Zay Flowers (WR), Kelee Ringo (CB), Drew Sanders (LB)