Fast forward to the end of this upcoming season, the 2023 hopeful Superbowl Champion Minnesota Vikings are going to have some big decisions to make less than a year from now about some key players on the team that are due for a new contract. The question is: Let them walk, or make sure they stay?
Guys on prove-it years in 2023:
Danielle Hunter is one of the guys whose contract expires after the end of this year and seems to be in some talks with the team about a possible extension. Danielle carries with him a 13 million dollar cap hit against the team this year, but from restructures on the deal he signed in 2018, Hunter is only due to make only 5 or so million dollars this year. Given the caliber of player that Hunter can be, that is almost criminal. But given his injury history, it may be hard to make a big commitment for the team when dealing with an injury-prone player. I’d like to see the team extend him for maybe 2 or 3 years in hopes he can jump back to his 2018-2019 form where he had back-to-back 14.5 sack seasons.
Kirk Cousins is also another player whose contract expires after this season. Given the talks about the new regime in General Manager Kwesi and Coach Kevin O’Connell already looking at their options at the quarterback position, it would be hard to see Kirk getting another long-term deal in Minnesota. Barring a Super Bowl birth and or win, our QB1 of the past 5 years is most likely playing elsewhere next year. Kirk has been a very solid quarterback for the team, but his lack of athleticism is a big concern, especially with the way that the NFL is evolving where dual-threat QBs are the cream of the crop. Although Cousins has been better scrambling as of late, he really doesn’t bring much to the table other than being an excellent thrower of the football, which we may be getting too accustomed to. Some of the throws that Kirk has made throughout the years makes you realize why he has stayed in the league for so long, but then you also get primetime Kirk who forgets how to play under the bright lights. It’s almost a guarantee, barring a Superbowl run, Kirk Cousins will have a new team in 2024.
Marcus Davenport is yet another guy whose contract expires with the team at the end of the year. Davenport was a former first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in the 2018 NFL Draft. More recently, Davenport was signed by the Vikings just a few months ago on a one-year, 13 million dollar contract in which 10 million of that is guaranteed. The former 14th overall pick hasn’t exactly lived up to his draft position and is a bit injury prone, but the one-year deal is strictly another “prove-it” style contract with the Vikings. In order to get another contract from the team, Davenport will have to make a big impact in one year to give himself a chance at a big money deal next year. If his 2023 campaign is like his stint with the Saints, it’d be hard to see the team try and re-sign him.
Ezra Cleveland also has a contract due to expire at the end of the year. The former 58th overall pick in the 2020 draft, has 43 starts and 47 total games played with the Vikings. in 1,134 snaps played, Cleveland had only 5 penalties and allowed 5 sacks in 2023 and earned a PFF grade of 73.5 for those of you who rely on analytics. Ezra had a shaky start to his career, but that is to be expected for someone who played Left Tackle in college, then transitioned to guard for the Vikings. Cleveland has a good shot at earning a contract extension this year with the Vikings if he continues to improve his craft. Cleveland may not be seen around the NFL as one of the top guards in the league, but it’s hard for any team to assemble an offensive line where all five guys are studs. I believe that Cleveland also has a good chance at a contract extension because he knows and fits the scheme well. He is an agile guard who excels in zone running concepts but struggles against big bull rushing against defensive tackles and ends.
KJ Osborn is in on one of the more intriguing positions on the team. Also due to have his contract expire after this year, Osborn will be looking to have another solid season in hopes of earning a second contract with the team that drafted him 176th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Osborn will also be battling with guys like rookie first-round receiver Jordan Addison and second-year receiver in Jalen Nailor for the WR2 and WR3 spots. Presumably, KJ probably has the edge over Nailor, but it will be interesting to see the depth chart of receivers when the season kicks off in early September. Barring injury and a few other things, KJ is likely to earn another contract with the Vikings. If he does not earn the approval of a second contract, the Vikings have cheaper options behind JJ with Addison and Nailor.
Jalen Reagor will also see his contract expire with the Vikings after the 2023 season. I do not envision an extension happening with Reagor. He was traded to us and since then, he has been a burden if anything. His miscues on offense when he was asked to step up last year were atrocious. It is hard to trust guys that give up on plays when their number isn’t called in the huddle. Reagor would have to have a stellar at minimum special teams year returning kicks and punts for the team, but even that won’t garner much of a paycheck for him. I’d like to see the team go in a different direction with him after this season.
DJ Wonnum has been able to showcase a few of his strengths with the Vikings ever since coming out our Southern Carolina in 2020. Although Wonnum isn’t a household name, he does bring great depth as a rotational pass rusher for the Vikings. He did have to step in for a couple of injured edge rushers a few times throughout his tenure, and for the most part was able to hold his own. He isn’t a very flashy pass rusher, but under Flores, we’re hoping he can come in next year and be that rotational pass rusher to keep fresh legs on the defensive line next year. I wouldn’t mind a team-friendly, multi-year extension to keep him as a depth piece. A capable backup edge rusher is always nice to have in your back pocket in the NFL, and again, for the right price I wouldn’t mind seeing Wonnum back in purple next year. Wonnum has 15 career sacks and 3 forced fumbles in his first 3 years with the Vikings.
Players who I would like to see get new deals:
TJ Hockenson is the player the Vikings ABSOLUTELY need to re-sign. Hockenson’s contract expires after this year and he has been a blessing for this team. I know that the Vikings are making the Jefferson extension a priority, but Hockenson needs to be next. TJ has fit right in with the team after being traded from division foe Detriot Lions back last year before the trade deadline. The Vikings traded a 2nd rounder in this year's draft (‘23) and a 3rd round pick in next year's draft (‘24) in exchange for Hockenson and two fourth-rounders. Last year, Hockenson had 86 catches, 914 yards, and 6 TDs solidifying himself yet again as one of the league's best tight ends. Needless to say, pay that man.
Some of these guys are on “Prove-it” deals in which they are rookies playing out the last year of that rookie contract. Other guys are the veterans who are also in the last year of their current contracts vying for a new one. It’s up for Kwesi and Co to decide who stays or goes, but don’t be shocked if only one or two of these guys stay a Viking for the foreseeable future. More big decisions are to be made by the new guys in charge soon, but first, let’s win games this year and go from there.