When the Vikings open their 2014 season Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium, in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal. It's a pre-season game, and come October, as fans we'll be hard pressed to remember who the Vikings even played in pre-season, much less who won this game.
But for about 40 guys, give or take, it's the beginning of the end of their time as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. On August 26th, the first set of roster cut downs occur, to 75 players, and what many of the guys do who play Friday will largely determine their fate moving forward.
Let's take a look a some roster battles, and see who'd going to literally be playing for a job over the next couple of weeks.
Safe: Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Ponder.
On the Bubble: No one
I don't see the Vikings cutting Ponder. He's got a manageable salary, he's in the final year of his contract, and for a number three guy, having 35 NFL starts is a plus. Yes, they could trade him, but cutting him? Anything is possible, I suppose, but it really doesn't make any sense from either an economics or a football perspective. Going to two quarterbacks has been a trend in recent years, yes, but unless Minnesota can get a good deal in a trade (and by good deal I mean a fifth round pick or later) I don't see them parting ways with Ponder.
Safe: Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Jerrick McKinnon
On the Bubble: Joe Banyard, Dominique Williams
Barring something substantial, Williams and Banyard have a long hill to climb. AP is AP, Asiata has looked really good so far in training camp, with surprising quickness and soft hands, and McKinnon is a third round pick who has flashed some ridiculous speed and talent. Banyard and Williams not only have a lot of ground to make up, but they haven't really stood out, either. Over a week into camp, that seems almost an impossible combination to overcome.
Safe: Jerome Felton
On the Bubble: Zach Line
This seems pretty cut and dried. Barring injury, Felton will once again be the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson. And no, I don't see a roster spot for Line at HB, either. Sorry, Zachbots. I know he flashed in pre-season last year, but I just don't see a scenario where he makes the final 53 man roster at this point.
Safe: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson
On the Bubble: Adam Thielen, Rodney Smith, Kain Colter, Kamar Jorden, Donte Foster, Andy Cruse, Erik Lora, Ty Walker
There's been talk of Simpson not making the roster, but I just don't see it. He's had his fair share of drops in camp, but he's still miles ahead of any of the other guys vying for a spot. I still think the Vikings will break camp with five, maybe six depending on whether or not the NFL decides to suspend Simpson. I don't think they will, but that's just me. If they put five guys on the roster, that means Thielen probably makes it. If Simpson gets suspended, Thielen is in and it's down to Smith and Colter for the final spot. Jorden, Foster, Cruse, Lora, and Walker have done nothing to stand out, and I just don't see any of them making the leap.
Safe: Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison,
On the Bubble: Chase Ford (PUP),
A.C. Leonard, Mike Higgins, Allen Reisner
Chase Ford seemed to be on the outside looking in a few days ago, but he's close to returning. With the surprising news of Leonard's release Wednesday, it would seem to be that the third TE battle will come down Ford or Reisner.
Safe: Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Antonio Richardson, Kevin Murphy
On the Bubble: Mike Remmers, Austin Wentworth
Obviously, the final determination of how many linemen the Vikings keep will determine who's ultimately safe and who gets cut, but it's better to be on the two deep at this point than the three deep. In recent seasons the Vikings have kept three tackles and three guards, a center, and a guy that can play all three positions on the line, so keep that in mind. With full pads practices kind of scarce in this day and age, giving these guys a complete evaluation is a lot tougher, making the guard and tackle jobs the murkiest to project for down roster spots. If the Vikings go with three, it seems Tiny Richardson might have the edge over Murphy at this point, but that battle could still go either way.
Safe: Charlie Johnson, Brandon Fusco, David Yankey, Vladimir Ducasse
On the Bubble: Pierce Burton, Jeff Baca
Everybody's favorite punching bag, Charlie Johnson (and seriously, the only thing you'd call him to his face is 'Mr. Johnson', because Lord are these linemen huge) is the starter, and Yankey isn't going to overtake him, so just get over it. Yankey's going to be good, but for now he's safely entrenched as Johnson's backup. There's been some noise the past couple days about a contract extension for Fusco, but nothing's happened yet, and Ducasse seems to be the top backup to him. Keep in mind the same rules for tackles above apply for guards, and they might only leave camp with three players. Again, still too early to tell, but I can see four guys here, as Ducasse's veteran experience could give the Vikings a comfort level they wouldn't have if they just went with Yankey as the third and final interior lineman.
Safe: John Sullivan, Joe Berger
On the Bubble: Zac Kerin
Sullivan and Berger seem to be no brainers. Sully is one of the best centers in the NFL, and Berger is a valuable guy that can play all positions on the interior line, so he has dual value besides being just Sully's backup.
Keep in mind, how guys perform in game conditions will have a huge effect on things. Mike Zimmer and both coordinators have said game conditions is what matters the most, so keep that in mind as we watch the game on Friday.
Everyone who is competing for a roster spot is going to make a move on Friday night, it's just a question of whether or not it will be up or down.