Decisions, decisions. There is little time left before the new league year begins March 15th as the entire league rushes to become cap compliant and with enough room to entice potential free agent acquisitions. As it stands, the Vikings are still 14 million dollars in the hole but can gain plenty of traction before next Wednesday rolls around.
Speaking on SKOR North’s Mackey and Judd podcast, reporter Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) gave plenty of insights on various Vikings currently on the roster. Talking extensions, cuts, and pay cuts, Wolfson gave plenty of scoops to give the audience key insight to how GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is planning his roster management.
To lead off with his various tid-bits of information, Wolfson indicated that there would be changes (emphasis on plural). Previously, the Vikings had released inside linebacker Eric Kendricks this past Monday and it seems that the front office is interested in something of an overhaul of the roster.
One of the easier decisions for the Vikings is the retention of safety Harrison Smith. Carrying a loaded contract, Wolfson believes that Smith is open to a pay cut. The current cap number on his contract is slightly more than $19 million dollars (figures provided by OverTheCap).
Smith has been a mainstay with Minnesota since his selection in the 2012 NFL Draft where the Vikings traded into the end of the first round to take him. Since his rookie year, Smith has been used as a rover with potential to drop back into coverage or burst across the line as a pass rusher. Though he is entering his age 34 season, he remains one of the premiere safeties in the NFL.
For the Minnesota State graduate, the writing has been on the wall for a while. Thielen has continued to say that he would love to retire as a Minnesota Viking, but his vision of his role in the offense seems to differ too much from the front office’s and he likely leaves the team in free agency.
Speculating on a potential landing spot, Wolfson indicated that wherever Aaron Rodgers ends up could match with Thielen. Rodgers has talked openly about his love of veteran receivers as opposed to rookies and could use the help if staying with the Packers or after a trade with the Jets. Regardless of where Thielen ultimately ends up, he wants a contributing role in the offense.
Thielen’s current cap number is similar to Smith’s at $19 million, but could be reduced to either $13 million on a pre-June first designation, or $6.5 million with $7 million carrying over onto 2024’s cap if designated post-June first.
Each team is able to designate a max of two players with post-June first tags before the actual calendar date.
There is also interest in resigning both Peterson and Shelley at the right price. Both cornerbacks are free agents and have expressed interest in returning as well. Peterson has been a valuable veteran voice on defense and the locker room since signing with the Vikings in 2021. And Shelley has been incredible since he began playing as injuries mounted among the Minnesota corners.
This is where the water gets murky. Things are uncertain in Cook’s future as he has made it clear that he is not interested in a pay cut from his current cap hit of $14 million. As the league continues down its current path, the running back position devalues more and more. Doubling so for Cook who will enter the 2023 season at 28 years old. No doubt Adofo-Mensah would love a pay reduction from his running back, but barring that a new decision needs to be made.
If a cut is pursued, pre-June first would reduce his cap number to $8 million or $5 million now and $3 million next year post-June first. With Thielen’s fate already decided, I would be shocked if Cook was simply cut. If that was the most desirable route, then releasing him next year would be more palatable. In that scenario, you have Cook for the 2023 season and release him pre-June first with $3 million in dead money.
Another possibility would be a trade, sending away Cook for a draft pick or two. According to Wolfson, apparently there has already been a trade offered for the veteran running back though no team was attached to the information. There are a few teams in need at the position, the Bills, Dolphins, and Falcons are among those that could be on the market for one of Cook’s caliber.