The Vikings released a pair of veterans to create salary cap space. Which moves could be next? Daniel House explains how these decisions fit within the team's offseason plans.
Entering this offseason, the Vikings faced a plethora of tough decisions. Everyone knew Minnesota had to part ways with high-priced veterans to create cap space. On Friday, the roster overhaul began.
The Vikings released defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. By making these two moves, the team freed up around $18.5 million in cap space. After factoring in Everson Griffen's voided contract, the Vikings now have around $20 million in available cap space, according to Over the Cap.
When Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer arrived in Minnesota, he built an integral core of defensive players. Zimmer inherited Rhodes and developed the former first-round pick into an All-Pro cornerback. He also signed Joseph, who became a key anchor of the defensive line. As Joseph and Rhodes both aged, the Vikings had to determine whether each of them were part of the organization's future vision.
Rhodes was once a top NFL cornerback, but his play significantly declined in 2019. He posted a 46.4 overall Pro Football Focus grade and was frequently targeted by opposing teams. In recent years, Joseph has battled through injuries, including a knee injury late last season. The veteran defensive tackle was less durable and it drastically impacted his performance.
Rhodes and Joseph will both hit free agency next week, but could eventually agree to new deals with the Vikings. The same can be said for defensive end Everson Griffen, who voided his contract last month. General Manager Rick Spielman indicated the team wanted to provide an opportunity for both Rhodes and Joseph to test the market.
"This decision comes now to allow Linval and Xavier to enter free agency prior
to the start of the new league year," said General Manager Rick Spielman. "We are sincerely appreciative of their contributions and commitment and will remain in communication as all parties navigate free agency moving."
Out of these two players, Joseph is probably the best candidate to return. He may agree to a new deal and lower his overall snap counts. If Joseph doesn't agree to a modified contract, the team will be relying upon second-year defensive tackle Armon Watts. Watts, a sixth-round pick in 2019, flashed last season and can play out of multiple different alignments. Jaleel Johnson was also effective on a rotational basis and has positional versatility. The biggest question is how the team will approach the 3-technique position. Minnesota may decide to draft a dominant 3-tech defensive tackle to shore up its run defense.
In the secondary, the Vikings will look for additional help through the draft. However, young players like Kris Boyd, Holton Hill and Mike Hughes have been developing behind the scenes. Boyd has impressed the coaching staff and could compete for a high volume of snaps in 2020. It's also unclear whether the team can agree to bring back cornerback Mackensie Alexander at an affordable rate.
Minnesota could make a few other moves prior to free agency next week. The new league year begins on March 18 and the Vikings may decide to cut additional costs. After seeing the depth and athleticism of this offensive tackle class, how does left tackle Riley Reiff fit into the picture? As I discussed in a recent post, Reiff could be approached about restructuring his contract.
The Vikings need to re-sign key free agents to extensions, while finding affordable ways to continue improving on the open market. If the organization decides to let safety Anthony Harris test the market, those financial resources could be dedicated to another position. If Minnesota heads in this direction, it is worth exploring possible ways to upgrade the offensive line.
At this stage of the offseason, we anticipated both of these roster decisions would occur. Now, moving forward, the biggest question is how the Vikings will approach free agency.