A month of training camp, three preseason games and four days of joint practices, including one in 97-degree heat and humidity, are complete. The only significant challenge left for the Vikings’ brass before the Sept. 10 opener will be cutting the roster by 37 players (90 to 53) by the 3 p.m. deadline on Tuesday, August 29th.
It’s a job that every NFL executive and coach will tell you they dread, but it’s a necessary evil that sets the wheels in motion for the regular season. In the Vikings’ case, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell have some interesting decisions to make.
Here are four of them.
Whether to keep Jaren Hall as a third quarterback
The Vikings used a fifth-round pick on BYU quarterback Jaren Hall last April and then spent training camp and the preseason beginning the process of molding him into someone O’Connell hopes can play in this league.
We are only at the start of that process, but there is an excellent chance Hall is going to make the 53-man roster.
There are a few reasons for this.
The NFL’s new third quarterback rule provides teams that keep three quarterbacks — and in recent years many haven’t — with the opportunity to bring that player off the bench, if the top two QBs are unable to continue. The third quarterback has to be on the 53-man roster to be eligible to play, but can be inactive on game day and still enter if Kirk Cousins and Nick Mullens can’t.
The other reason is just as important. These are no longer Mike Zimmer’s Vikings, or Rick Spielman’s for that matter. O’Connell, a former quarterback, was hired because of his expertise on the offensive side of the ball and because he’s expected to develop quarterbacks.
Kellen Mond, a third-round pick in 2021, appeared to be more of a pain in Zimmer’s side than anything. Hall, who played the entire game in the Vikings’ preseason finale on Saturday, might not turn into an NFL starter but it won’t be because time and patience weren’t invested in him.
Trying to get Hall on the practice squad would mean putting him on waivers and risking having him claimed. That likely isn’t a chance O’Connell wants to take.
Running back situation lacks certainty, especially after Kene Nwangwu misses time
The Vikings entered training camp planning to have Alexander Mattison as their top running back with Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu competing for the backup job. Nwangwu, an excellent kick return man, even was listed second on the “unofficial” depth chart behind Mattison.
But Nwangwu suffered an undisclosed injury early in camp and missed the entire preseason. He had looked good at running back during the offseason workouts, but his extended absence raises concern about his durability.
Chandler, who rushed for 41 yards on 11 carries in the Vikings’ preseason opener at Seattle, didn’t play against the Cardinals and is a lock to make the roster. Nwangwu also could stick, but will the Vikings keep another running back for depth? That could be seventh-round pick DeWayne McBride, who appears a better fit for the practice squad, or it could be a veteran the Vikings claim off waivers.
The Vikings brought in free agent Kareem Hunt for a visit early in camp but did not sign him. It’s likely this is one position at which the Vikings feel they need more quality depth.
The Vikings kept five wide receivers in the final cuts last season and that’s likely what they will do again. Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison and K.J. Osborn are locks and the guess here is Brandon Powell and Jalen Nailor are the other two.
Powell was added as a free agent from the Rams during the offseason and it’s clear O’Connell trusts him both at wide receiver and on punt returns. Nailor missed extensive time after being injured on the first day of camp, but he has returned and the 2022 sixth-round pick has shown flashes of turning into a productive player.
That would leave Jalen Reagor, taken one pick ahead of Jefferson in the 2020 draft, as the odd man out. Reagor’s salary of $2.42 million is fully guaranteed for 2023, so the best option for the Vikings would be to find a trade partner.
Reagor looked solid most days in camp, but the Vikings’ intention to shop him was pretty obvious when he played in the third preseason game. O’Connell held almost all the veterans he was planning on keeping out of that game.
The Vikings gave the Eagles a 2023 seventh-round pick and a conditional mid-round selection in 2024 in a trade made just before the regular season last year. Reagor was targeted on only 13 passes, catching eight for 104 yards and one touchdown in 17 games, but also caused more than one Cousins interception by running the wrong route.
Reagor returned 26 punts for a career-low 6.4 yards, and it’s likely Powell will take over those duties.
It will be interesting to see if the Vikings also shop Nick Muse, who had an excellent camp but is the fourth tight end on the depth chart, and outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum, who has 15 sacks in three seasons with the Vikings.
Six safeties cold make sense based on performance and scheme
A year ago, with Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator, the Vikings only kept four safeties in final cuts. That guess here is that number will increase by two with new coordinator Brian Flores using far more three safety looks and six players at the position deserving jobs.
Harrison Smith and Cam Bynum will be the starters for a second consecutive year, but Josh Metellus will get a significant amount of snaps in what will be big nickel and big dime packages.
Lewis Cine didn’t have a memorable camp, and ended it nursing what appears to be a minor leg strain, but the 2022 first-round pick is in no jeopardy of being cut.
Jay Ward, a fourth-round pick from LSU, had an impressive strip sack deep in Cardinals territory on Saturday who also has experience at cornerback. His spot is safe. Theo Jackson, who was signed off the Titans’ practice squad last season after being a sixth-round pick, impressed throughout camp and will be claimed if he’s put on waivers.
Flores is going to have plenty of say in the defensive roster construction and it’s possible he will be willing to sacrifice some depth at another spot in order to keep six safeties.
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