The Vikings are parting with veteran players and the movement could be aimed at more than getting under the NFL salary cap for 2023. The bigger goal in having a restructured roster might be to have a lot of salary cap room going into 2024. Next year the Vikings could be chasing some high-profile free agents and are expected later this year to strike a mega contract extension with superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
The Vikings, who remain several million dollars under the cap, have already released pricey veterans Eric Kendricks (linebacker) and Adam Thielen (wide receiver). Rumors persist that another valued veteran will be gone soon, safety Harrison Smith, “Harry the Hit Man.” His departure would put the Vikings under the cap, saving about $7.3 million, per Overthecap.com. Another option could be Smith taking a pay cut, something it’s believed Thielen wasn’t willing to do.
Some Vikings starters, regardless of whether they’re free agents, are potential targets for release in coming days as general manager Kwesi Odofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell reshape the roster and payroll. They have also released third-year cornerback Cameron Dantzler, often a starter.
The second-year GM is a deep thinker and his moves are difficult to forecast. He seems unlikely to get pigeonholed into predictably and likes having flexibility.
The Vikings have reportedly saved about $16 million in cap room and could gain another $5 million if they part with linebacker Jordan Hicks, a former NFL executive told Sports Headliners. That would move the Vikings close to the NFL salary cap number of $224.8 million.
But the Vikings could certainly create more space for the future. Tight end Irv Smith, an unrestricted free agent, looks expendable after last fall’s acquisition of T.J. Hockenson. “I tend to think he (Smith) could probably get a better deal elsewhere because of the money they’re putting into Hockenson,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Running back Alexander Mattison, a career sub but impressive performer, is another free agent the Vikings must make a deal with or lose. He would be a cheaper option than star Dalvin Cook whose future in Minneapolis has drawn speculation about whether he’s willing to accept a big pay cut. “They’re not going to be able to keep them both,” the authority said.
The Vikings also must deal with the free agency of center Garrett Bradbury. The former NFL GM who spoke to Sports Headliners believes the Vikings might be more interested in Browns free agent Ethan Pocic. “That’s a tricky one (keeping Bradbury). I think they’d probably like to get a little bit more physical type center.”
A free agent the Vikings seem certain to bring back is expensive defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. His current salary is $10,500,000 per Spotrac.com and at 29 he is a valued stopper on the defensive line. Another veteran free agent on defense who seems likely to return is Patrick Peterson who plays cornerback, a position the Vikings are thin at and likely are targeting in the draft or other form of acquisition.
Curiously, linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who earns over $9 million and had an impressive first half of the season in 2022, has asked the Vikings to release him without explanation. Although the Vikings could reportedly save about $12 million against the cap, it’s not believed they want to lose the talented edge rusher.
“That’s a really tough call,” the source said. “It’s going to be determined (by) what the medical people feel his prognosis is. Is this going to be a chronic situation with that knee and his other issues that he’s had with his back? I don’t know. I am just surprised that he has come out publicly saying he wants to be released. That may indicate they’re trying to get him to take a pay cut , too.”
NFL teams have until Wednesday to be under the salary cap, so the immediate hours ahead are sure to bring Vikings news. Teams are allowed to start talking with free agents tomorrow and players can be signed starting Wednesday.
One high profile free agent, quarterback Lamar Jackson, seems unlikely to draw interest from the Vikings. “I would be shocked if that happens,” the Sports Headliners source said. “They wouldn’t want to give up the two first round picks (required). I don’t think they would want to give him $230 million fully guaranteed. And I think one of the problems for Lamar in this whole situation is having missed 11 games the last two years, including the playoff game last year.”
Such sad news yesterday about the death of Bud Grant. I will write in detail about the legendary Grant later in the week.
The Vikings have five draft slots in the seven round 2023 NFL draft, as of now. They pick at No. 23 in the first round, No. 24 in the third round, No. 17 in the fourth round, No. 25 in the fifth round, and No. 34 in the sixth round.
Among division rivals, the Packers have picks in every round including four in the seventh. The Bears, with the No. 9 first round selection, have choices in every round including three in the second, and two each in the fourth, fifth and seventh. The Lions have no picks in the fourth or seventh rounds but two each in the first, second and sixth rounds among their draft slots.
The Minnesota Football Coaches Association will induct Thielen and former Golden Gophers running back Darrell Thompson, now head of the Bolder Options nonprofit, into their Hall of Fame April 1 at the DoubleTree Hotel Minneapolis Parkplace. Other inductees are Terry Bahlmann, Marshall; Randy Kuchenmeister, Blue Earth; Chuck Ross, Underwood; Doug Ekmark, Park.
Saturday was a hockey lover’s dream with an estimated 40,000-plus total fans attending the two boys’ state tournament championship games in St. Paul, and men’s and women’s Gopher playoff games in Minneapolis.
Ticket tip for next year’s boys’ tournament. Buy tickets for the Class A opening day when a $20 general admission ticket gets you in the lower bowl.
The Big Ten will announce men’s hockey award winners tomorrow. The Gophers have finalists in five major categories including Player of the Year with Matthew Knies; Defensive Player of the Year, Brock Faber; and Goalie of the Year Justen Close. Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud are two of three finalists for Freshman of the year. Bob Motzko is one of three who could win Coach of the Year.
First baseman Christian Lee Encarnacion, among the players the Twins sent to the Reds last August for pitcher Tyler Mahle, is hitting .625 in spring training on 15 hits in 24 at bats!
Word from baseball spring training in the Fort Myers area is be prepared to pay $300 and up for a basic hotel room. And it’s not too soon to book lodging for a 2024 February-March stay in Southwest Florida.
The football Gophers will hold two open and free spring football practices, March 28 and April 4. Both practices are scheduled to start at 5:15 p.m., with locations to be announced. The free annual spring game begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 22 at Huntington Bank Stadium.
Happy Birthday to former Golden Gophers basketball captain Paul Presthus who turns 78 Thursday.
More good news: Mike Wilkinson, author of the Murray Wamath biography The Autumn Warrior, is resting at home after a long bout with pneumonia.Comments Welcome