There are 90 guys on the roster at the beginning of summer, but by Labor Day that number will be cut down to the requisite 53. And while several of those 37 players cut will be rookies, still more will come from veteran ranks.
And so for the next three months, 90 guys will be busy proving themselves in one way or another. Many know their spot is secure- locked in contractually and/or without serious competition.
But for most guys, the competition is do-or-die, and in the NFL, Not-For-Long is the way of things, as the average career for an NFL player is just over 3 years.
For rookies, whether drafted or UFAs- especially UFAs- the challenge is to get noticed, practice hard, earn some reps, make the most of them, show some ability, and do whatever is asked of you to hopefully make enough coaches and staff want to keep you.
But for veterans, particularly ones that are not contractually locked-in, the competition is about proving your worth- and justifying your salary-cap hit. Veterans have a track record that follows them, and usually a much bigger salary cap hit than an incoming rookie. Age is also a factor. So, for older vets with a bigger salary cap, not much dead cap, and performance that may not exceed that of their replacement, there is a lot to prove in three months. In some cases it may not even be so much about the player, but his potential replacement and how ready they are to take over his roster spot.
In any case, here are some veterans currently on the Vikings roster that may well be on the chopping block come August, along with the stats that make them vulnerable.
For the PFF grades, 70-79 is considered ‘average’, 60-69 ‘below average’, 59 and below ‘poor’.
The 2017 salary cap figure is how much the player counts against this year’s salary cap, and the 2017 dead cap figure is how much would still count against the salary cap if the player was released. The difference between the salary cap figure and the dead cap figure is the potential salary cap savings if the player was cut.
Shamar Stephen, DT
Overall PFF Grades, 2016-2014: 41.7, 42.2, 45.5
2017 Salary Cap: $1,813,287
2017 Dead Cap: $16,287
Potential Salary Cap Savings: $1,797,000
Stephen has played as a backup in rotation at both DT spots over the past three years, but not particularly well, by his PFF grades which have been poor every year. The Vikings drafted Jaleel Johnson in the 4th round, who is direct competition with Stephen for his spot in rotation at both DT positions. Johnson’s salary cap is over $1m less than Stephen’s. Additionally, the Vikings acquired Datone Jones and Will Sutton in free agency- both as interior DLs, along with UFA Dylan Bradley.
The Vikings typically keep 4 interior defensive linemen on the roster. Linval Joseph and Datone Jones are locks. Sharrif Floyd is assumed to be on Injured Reserve, so doesn’t take a roster spot. That leaves two spots remaining among five candidates. I’d be very surprised if Jaleel Johnson didn’t make the roster, and Stephen has easily the worst PFF grades among the vets.
Tom Johnson, DT
Overall PFF Grades 2016-2011: 72.7, 48.0, 76.4, 43.3, 78.7, 61.5
2017 Salary Cap: $2,350,000
2017 Dead Cap: $0
Potential Salary Cap Savings: $2,350,000
Tom Johnson has had some impact plays for the Vikings over the past few years, and at times has played surprisingly well. But he has been inconsistent, alternating between average and poor the past four years, and at 32, age could begin taking it’s toll. His salary cap figure doesn’t help. Johnson is mainly a passing down sub-package guy, but Datone Jones will likely play in those situations, and possibly Jaleel Johnson, so his services may be superfluous.
Emmanuel Lamur, LB
Overall PFF Grades, 2016-2012: 47.9, 41.0, 38.4, 76.4
2017 Salary Cap: $2,750,000
2017 Dead Cap: $0
Potential Salary Cap Savings: $2,750,000
Lamur played only 38 snaps last season, and hasn’t played well the past three seasons. He’s mainly been a special teams player. With Chad Greenway’s retirement, he will compete for a starting spot, but the addition of Ben Gedeon and Elijah Lee, along with Edmund Robinson and Kentrell Brothers- both of whom have received some positive comments from coaches and Rick Spielman- may find Lamur and his $2.75m salary cap too expensive for a 2nd - 3rd string LB on the depth chart.
Antone Exum, S
Overall PFF Grades, 2015-2014: 51.8, 68.3
2017 Salary Cap: $718,947
2017 Dead Cap: $28,947
Potential Salary Cap Savings: $690,000
Exum missed all of last season with a leg injury, and reportedly has a knee injury now and was seen on crutches at OTAs this week. Exum’s contract expires at the end of this season, so unless he gets healthy real fast, and outperforms guys like Jack Tocho and Jayron Kearse and Anthony Harris, very doubtful the Vikings keep him on the roster.
Anthony Harris, S
Overall PFF Grades, 2016-2015: 52.0, 83.5
2017 Salary Cap: $615,000
2017 Dead Cap: $0
Potential Salary Cap Savings: $615,000
Harris had a few starts at safety late last year, but in his second year, struggled mightily in coverage (45.9 PFF grade in pass coverage). He did alright in run defense (77.3), but it appears the Vikings are looking for guys that can cover better at safety, and drafting CB Jack Tocho to play safety is a nod in that direction. The Vikings usually keep 4 safeties, and Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo are locks. Jayron Kearse looks ahead of Harris on the depth chart too. If Kearse solidifies that status, the Vikings may be more comfortable keeping the bigger Tocho as a higher-upside alternative.
Others at Risk
Beyond these five veterans, there are other veterans at risk as well, mainly offensive linemen, but for the most part these have been marginal contributors at most, with minimal salary cap hits. Who wins the camp battles for these backup spots is a little more unclear, so I didn’t add anybody to the list there.
Who would be the biggest surprise cut from this list?
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