With almost every sport on an ominous hiatus due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL is the only major sports league marching on without major delays to their schedule. Teams have announced coaches and staff limiting travel as well as the cancellation of player visits. The Vikings even announced that they’re closing TCO Performance Center until further notice due to the coronavirus. But the NFL offseason schedule hasn’t been delayed yet, mostly because the next steps don’t require a lot of crowds or social interaction. On Friday, the Vikings proved that they are still conducting business by announcing three major moves.
The release of two defensive stalwarts was announced:
The Vikings announced they’ve released Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes. The defensive overhaul has begun.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) March 13, 2020
Along with the release of tight end David Morgan:
The #Vikings are also releasing TE David Morgan, source said.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 13, 2020
The release of Xavier Rhodes comes as no surprise to most Vikings fans. Rhodes was an All-Pro in 2017, but his play had significantly declined over the past two seasons. His 2020 salary cap number was $12.9 million, which was simply far too much for a player that was one of the worst graded cornerbacks in the league by Pro Football Focus in 2019. Releasing Rhodes comes with a dead cap hit of $4.8 million, but it also provides $8.1 million in cap relief.
The departure of Linval Joseph wasn’t as anticipated as the release of Rhodes, but it wasn’t out of the blue either. Joseph was still a key cog in the Vikings defense in his tenth NFL season and had some very impressive performances in 2019, but he didn’t show the consistent week-to-week disruption that had made him one of the best free agent signings of Rick Spielman’s tenure as General Manager. Even with the slight dip in performance, the decision to release Joseph probably had much more to do with the financial side. According to Over The Cap, releasing Joseph freed up even more cap space with less dead cap than Rhodes. The Vikings saved almost $10.5 million while eating only $2.4 million in dead cap.
Morgan was a sixth round pick of the Vikings in 2016 and had three seasons where he contributed as a backup tight end, especially in the run game. However, an injury kept him out of the entire 2019 season. With Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., and Tyler Conklin all on the roster and under contract for 2020, the release of Morgan seemed fairly inevitable.
With the Vikings cash-strapped against the salary cap, some major changes to the roster were definitely on the horizon. The moves this week have freed up $18.5 million according to Spotrac. Even after the release of Joseph, Rhodes, and Morgan, the team will likely be priced out of retaining the services of safety Anthony Harris. The market for Harris was already high, and it got even better when the Broncos franchise tagged Justin Simmons on Friday. Mike Zimmer’s defense is going to look a lot different both on the sidelines and on the field in what’s sure to be a make-or-break season on many levels.
Stay tuned for much more as free agency and the draft approaches—for now, at least.