It’s no secret that Rick Spielman will need to do some financial gymnastics in order to balance the books. Indeed, the Covid Cap dramatically impacts Minnesota’s future finances, making roster cuts a virtual necessity. Over the weekend, we offered some brief thoughts about three players who are likely to be cut. At this time, I’d like to expand on these brief thoughts while adding a couple cut candidates to the mix. The hope is that Spielman can be shrewd with the cap, allowing the Minnesota Vikings to continue reshaping their roster.
#5: Mike Hughes
The 2018 first-round pick just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Mike Zimmer was enamored with Hughes because of his elite movement skills and toughness. He was also supposed to help with punt return (I don’t need to tell fans about how much the Vikings have struggled with their return game). It’s easy to forget that Hughes began the year as our #1 corner. An injury has limited him to four games, though. Last season, Hughes played 14 games; his rookie year ended after 6 games. According to PFF, Hughes has never risen above mediocrity. His highest grade — 61.6 — came when he was the fourth corner on Minnesota’s roster. The Vikings have already cut one promising young corner: Holton Hill. Will they cut another? Doing so would save a little more than a million dollars.
#4: Riley Reiff
The Vikings paid a lot of money to secure Riley Reiff‘s services. He has rewarded them with average to above-average play. For the Vikings, average to above-average is tremendous on the OL. The fact remains, though, that Minnesota could move on Reiff and save $11.75 million. Having Ezra Cleveland on the roster certainly makes moving on from Reiff more tenable. Fans should also keep in mind that the Vikings will be picking at a slot where several highly-ranked tackles will be available. It would be a shame to see Reiff go. He is a great leader and well-respected by teammates. A restructure seems unlikely since they’ve already forced Reiff into a pay cut.
#3: Dan Bailey
The special teams have been a mess for the majority of the season. Unfortunately, Dan Bailey has contributed to the problems on Specials. He has mostly bounced back recently, but questions remain about his long-term outlook for the Vikings. Initially, his offseason contract extension seemed to suggest that the Vikings were solidifying their kicking situation for years to come. He got the yips, though. His two-game stretch from Week 13-14 — two critical games in the playoff pursuit — were dreadful. It’s plausible that we may have beaten the Bucs had Bailey been sharp. If Bailey struggles against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, then Mike Zimmer and Spielman may decide that the $1.7 million saved from a cut is just more important than a shaky, veteran kicker.
#2: Shamar Stephen
It’s long been clear that the Vikings’ coaching staff values Stephen more than the fan base. In fairness, Stephen has shown his value this year even though the Vikings’ defense has played poorly. He is capable of playing both NT and 3T at a competent level. He sucks up blockers, allowing the linebackers to thrive (at least when it’s Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks on the field). The issue is that Stephen simply doesn’t justify a cap hit above $5 million. It’s entirely possible that Minnesota will work towards a restructure. If both sides can’t come to an agreement, it wouldn’t be surprising if he was cut.
#1: Kyle Rudolph
Josh Frey recently discussed this over at Purple PTSD. Frey identifies Rudolph as one of three Vikings who will likely play their last game in Minnesota on Sunday (alongside Anthony Harris and Eric Wilson), assuming his injury allows him to get onto the field. The key difference, of course, is that Rudolph is the only one of the three who will still be under contract. Ask yourself: does Rudolph really justify top-5 money at this stage in his career? His season totals are modest, to say the least: 28 catches, 334 yards, and a lonely TD. He has missed the last three games because of injury. Twice he has been held without a catch. It’s time to let Tyler Conklin and Irv Smith Jr. take over at TE. Spielman should make the cut if he can’t secure a trade, giving Minnesota more than $5 million in cap space.
As any number of people have pointed out, the Vikings can save more than $10 million by cutting Harrison Smith. Expect the Vikings to extend him rather than cut him. Ditto for Adam Thielen. It seems unlikely that the Vikings will move on from Anthony Barr unless Zimmer is fired (which is also unlikely). After the Saints debacle, Zimmer specifically mentioned Barr as one of the key players who needs to return for Minnesota to regain a stout defense. Otherwise, the most notable name that comes to mind is Kirk Cousins. He won’t be cut, folks, but perhaps he should be extended.