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Vikings Roster Changes Unfolding

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In the Not For Long league of professional football, change is inevitable, and we’re seeing some significant changes to the Vikings roster as free agency gets under-way.

Many of the changes were known in advance, but we’re also seeing some new ones too.

QUARTERBACK

All three of the Vikings starting quarterbacks over the past four years are gone.

Kirk Cousins is now the face of the franchise.

RUNNING BACK

Jerick McKinnon is gone, Latavius Murray is a year closer to free agency- but Dalvin Cook will be back and hopefully better than ever.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Tom Johnson is gone, Shariff Floyd is officially a free agent, Shamar Stephen is gone too it appears. Brian Robison may be too. But Sheldon Richardson just came on board.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this was Everson Griffen’s last year in purple either, at least under his current contract.

On the offensive line, the Vikings best offensive lineman the past several years- Joe Berger- looks increasingly like he’ll retire.

Salary Cap More of an Issue Now

I think most would agree the turnover in the roster has been exclusively upgrades, but in a couple cases expensive ones. The Wall Street Journal has a story out about how the Cousins deal makes the 2018 Vikings the 2nd most top heavy team- in terms of salary cap % going to the top 10 players- among division winners last year, projected at 58.7%. That was prior to the Sheldon Richardson deal. Anticipating contract extensions for Anthony Barr, Stefon Diggs, Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter, along with the 5th year option on Trae Waynes, and the Vikings will have over 70% of their salary cap going to the top 20% of their roster. That’s not sustainable. It’s too hard to fit 40 player’s salary cap into 30% of the total.

The Rams were the most top-heavy of last year’s division winners, and sure enough they’ve had to make some tough choices in terms of retaining players, restructuring contracts, and managing their salary cap this off-season.

And so more changes will be coming. Jarius Wright was cut today, creating $2.1M in dead cap, but saving $2.6M in the process. Latavius Murray’s contract was restructured, resulting in a pay cut and voiding the last year of his 3-year deal, making it most likely his last year in purple.

One wonders if Brian Robison, with a $3.5M cap hit and only a $1.2M dead cap hit this year, may be another cap casualty.

Everson Griffen, who turned 30 in December, and who is the 4th highest salary cap hit on the team, with around a $12M cap hit this year and next, will have his dead cap amount drop from $12.7M this year to $1.2M next year. Not sure he’ll be on the roster at his current salary cap next year, when cutting him would save almost $11M in cap space- space that may very well be needed to extend younger core players. Linval Joseph is a similar situation too.

Important Draft Coming Up

Now that the Vikings have wrapped up two of the biggest prizes in free agency in Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson- and the last of their three biggest priorities of getting a top QB, 3-Tech DT, and offensive coordinator- Rick Spielman is turning now more to the draft he said, while continuing to monitor the 2nd and 3rd waves of free agency.

The Vikings most likely will look to bolster their offensive line in the draft, but also bring on some promising defensive linemen and defensive backs, and probably a WR and RB as well. Being able to hit on most of those picks will be important, if they are to develop and eventually replace some of the top tier talent- and top tier contracts- the Vikings have on their roster today.

Rick Spielman has done a great job building through the draft for several years now, and many analysts consider the Vikings to be one of the top teams in the league in terms of overall drafting success over the past five years. In part that is why the salary cap is a problem now- so many of those great draft picks have developed over the years and now command big contracts as their rookie deals expire.

Building a Dynasty- or Perennial Top Contender- Isn’t Easy

Obviously Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer and the Wilf’s are making moves to win now, with a stacked roster and coming off a 13-3 season and NFC Title game appearance. But keeping that stacked roster in place over many years isn’t easy, and you have to both draft well and make smart deals in free agency, or it will degrade over time.

Fortunately the Vikings have the best combination of coaching, general manager and ownership since back in the days of Bud Grant, Jim Finks, and Max Winter- which led to four Super Bowl appearances in eight years. There was a lot of good drafting back then- and interesting trades too- trading away Fran Tarkenton, bringing in Joe Kapp, trading for Gary Larsen, bringing back Fran Tarkenton...

But now that the Vikings have all the pieces in place- Super Bowl window wide open- we’ll see how long it will last. Hopefully in this Not For Long league, the Vikings can be an exception to the rule.