5 Minnesota Vikings Veterans Now on Roster Bubble Following Draft
The Minnesota Vikings added 20 new faces to their offseason roster during the NFL draft and its subsequent festivities. General manager Rick Spielman acquired 10 players in exchange for draft picks over the course of the weekend, and he more recently agreed to terms with 10 undrafted free agents. While this exciting time marks the beginning of a new journey for the hungry 2015 class, it also shuts the door on a multitude of careers as well.
Minnesota did an outstanding job addressing dire needs with early-round selections last weekend. Adding one player always requires the subtraction of another, but the Vikings didn't make many "force out" selections.
For example, the selection of second-round inside linebacker Eric Kendricks acts as a replacement for 2014 starting inside linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who, coincidentally, isn't on the Vikings' roster anymore. The addition of Kendricks does push linebacker Audie Cole back onto the depth chart (again), but he is essentially replacing an empty spot on the roster.
Other draft picks such as former LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter and former Pittsburgh offensive tackle TJ Clemmings aren't polished enough to overthrow Vikings starters Brian Robison and Phil Loadholt just yet. Once again, Minnesota's selections aren't "stepping on any toes."
In order to accommodate potentially 20 new players, however, there will be some roster turnover, and this will begin sooner rather than later.
The Vikings obviously don't have to set their 53-man roster until late August, but the maximum roster size during this phase of the offseason is 90; Minnesota currently has 95 players on its roster (assuming all undrafted free agents sign contracts), according to Chris Tomasson of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press:
Vikings 10 undrafted free agents to sign Thursday after physicals. If all sign must cut 5 to stay at 90-man roster: http://t.co/cFg3Ub8jpm— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) May 5, 2015
Although the first five players to be asked to clear out their lockers likely won't be very recognizable faces, this is merely the beginning of the process. When Minnesota's 53-man roster is ultimately set in a few months, there will be a few familiar faces missing from the team's depth chart—it seems unlikely that any full-time, long-tenured starters will be released, though.
Here are five Vikings veterans who may not make it to Week 1 this season due to the roster alterations caused by the NFL draft.
Trimming Down to 53
The NFL is a cutthroat industry, and Minnesota has proven this offseason it isn't an outlier team to this norm.
Many weeks prior to the draft, the Vikings parted ways with veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings, the team's receptions and receiving yards leader in 2013 and 2014. Minnesota made this decision knowing it would still be required to pay Jennings $6 million this season (as part of the guaranteed money agreed upon in his contract).
Simply put, this transaction proved that any player can be cut at any time. This may not be the case during Offseason A, but things could look completely different by Offseason B.
Average production in recent years and largely guaranteed contracts are merely roadblocks. If a team isn't optimistic about a given player's future with the organization, moves will be made to justify this belief. The only way to ensure job security is by playing well and by playing well consistently, which is much easier said than done.
The following groupings list some notable names on Vikings' current 90-man roster that may not be in Minnesota come September. The following contract numbers, attached to each player's name, are provided by Overthecap.com.
Remember: the Vikings will also add 10 cut players to their practice squad.
Buried on Depth Chart (Likely): S Taylor Mays, LB Casey Matthews, LB Michael Mauti, RB Joe Banyard, RB Henry Josey, TE Chase Ford, OT Babatunde Aiyegbusi, DT Isame Faciane, OT Antonio Richardson, WR Kain Colter, S Ahmad Dixon, CB Jalil Carter, CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, S Andrew Sendejo, OG Austin Wentworth.
2016 Salary-Cap Consumers (Very Unlikely): DE Brian Robison, CB Captain Munnerlyn, OT Phil Loadholt, WR Mike Wallace, RB Adrian Peterson, OT Matt Kalil (fifth-year option), OC John Sullivan, DT Linval Joseph—these players are exponentially more likely to be seen on this list next year but may still be unlikely candidates due to team importance.
Players names may appear on this list for a variety of reasons, such as positional depth (Bostick), performance (Locke), injury (Richardson), salary-cap hit (Munnerlyn) or off-field issues (Price). Additionally, players that don't offer much versatility (Kafka, Bykowski) are much easier to cut than those that do (Thielen, Ellison).
Note: Drafted players and undrafted free-agent signings from 2015 are subject to being cut as well (remember CB Kendall James?), but this list is more geared toward targeting multi-year pros and veterans.
CB Terence Newman
Mike Zimmer loves working with his former pupils. Last year, the Vikings brought in safety Chris Crocker, and this year Minnesota signed 37-year-old cornerback Terence Newman.
The Vikings didn't do a whole lot during free agency, but Spielman and Co. decided bringing in the former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback was worth the risk. Newman is still a very capable cover man, as shown by the analysis done by Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton, but Minnesota's class of rookie defensive backs may force him out.
Minnesota used the No. 1 overall selection to add former Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes. In addition, the Vikings agreed to terms with former Tennessee cornerback Justin Coleman. Being the first-round pick of the pair, Waynes obviously has a better chance of surpassing Newman on the team's depth chart, but Coleman could showcase enough ability to warrant a roster spot.
In the event that the Vikings deem Coleman deserving, it would be far more logical to release the aging defensive back as opposed to a developing young talent such as Jabari Price.
Newman's contract situation does complicate things a bit, however. The Vikings committed $750,000 in guaranteed money to the veteran cover man, which is considerably more than any first- or second-year player is entitled to.
With that said, Minnesota didn't have an issue eating dead money to shed Greg Jennings, which makes Newman as plausible of a cut as anyone due to his advanced age and regressing abilities.
Newman represents a bit of an unlikely cut due to how recently the Vikings committed a solid sum of money to him, but strong training-camp showings from both Coleman and Price may require the move.
Verdict: Hangs on to roster spot due to defensive system knowledge, experience and guaranteed salary
OT Mike Harris
Minnesota relatively recently re-signed offensive tackle Mike Harris to a one-year contract, but the developments over the weekend almost certainly have changed his future.
The Vikings added offensive tackles TJ Clemmings, Tyrus Thompson and Austin Shepherd (likely a guard in the NFL) during the draft. Additionally, Minnesota agreed to terms with undrafted offensive guards Jesse Somsel and Bobby Vardaro as well as center Tom Farniok.
While this entire group may play a role in Harris' future with the team, Clemmings and Thompson are the pair to keep an eye on. Clemmings, a fourth-round selection, and Thompson, a sixth-round pick, are considered far superior talents than their draft positioning would indicate. In fact, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock went so far as to say Clemmings could be a day-one starter in the NFL, assuming his health cooperates.
2014 starters Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt aren't going anywhere (for now), and the pair of rookie tackles should not have an issue surpassing the underwhelming Harris on Minnesota's depth chart. Throw in the unknown of Polish giant Babatunde Aiyegbusi, and there is considerable reason to believe Harris will be a Vikings draft casualty.
Furthermore, Harris doesn't maintain the guaranteed-money "support" that Newman does, as the Vikings wouldn't suffer a salary-cap penalty by cutting him.
The only thing Harris may have going for him is his versatility. He did play 53 snaps at right guard for the Vikings in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus, which may keep his roster status alive.
In order for this versatility to be a key factor, however, Harris will need to prove to be noticeably more dominant than Shepherd and Co. since age is certainly not on his side when competing against rookies.
Verdict: TJ Clemmings draft casualty
PR/CB Marcus Sherels
It seems like Marcus Sherels appears on this list every offseason, and yet he's still an active member of the Vikings. With that said, the former Minnesota Golden Gopher's five-year tenure of "living on the edge" will finally come to a close this time around.
Listing Sherels as a cornerback is honestly being a bit generous; he played only 12 coverage snaps in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus—and they did not go well. As a result, while the additions of Waynes and Coleman should affect Sherels given his listed position, they really don't.
The addition of former Maryland gadget Stefon Diggs, however, really hurts Sherels' chances of making the 53-man roster.
Diggs, who possesses a skill set likened to Percy Harvin or Cordarrelle Patterson, is considered to be a dynamic special teams weapon. He returned both kicks and punts at Maryland, averaging 25.8 and 9.4 yards respectively to go along with two kick-return touchdowns.
The former top high school recruit may not be an immediate offensive contributor, but there is little doubt in the minds of Vikings upper management that he can contribute on special teams beginning Week 1.
In combination with fan favorite Adam Thielen (and Patterson), Diggs can certainly manage return duties for the Vikings. Given that Thielen, Patterson and Diggs are all capable of contributing in different phases of the game as well, Sherels figures to be the odd man out.
Thielen, who played only 152 (mostly garbage-time) snaps for the Vikings on offense, could be viewed in the same likeness as Sherels. But the former Minnesota State-Mankato star proved to be one of Minnesota's best weapons on its coverage teams as well last season, which should give him an undeniable edge and grant him enough roster security to sleep easy—especially in comparison to Sherels.
Verdict: Stefon Diggs draft casualty
S Robert Blanton
If I'm being completely honest, this one hurts me personally. I have been one of the minority supporters of Robert Blanton and his underwhelming yet satisfactory performance in the Vikings secondary, but there is a very real chance he won't be back next season.
Simply put, Blanton just has too many players (with impressive potential) working against his roster candidacy.
What makes his situation a bit unique, however, is the fact that the Vikings didn't even draft a safety this year. Despite it being considered a top need for Minnesota by many analysts, Rick Spielman elected to forgo the opportunity to draft (or trade up to get) one of the few impact safeties in the 2015 class.
The Green Bay Packers swiped Arizona State product Damarious Randall, a rumored favorite of the Minnesota scout team, and the New York Giants traded up to pick No. 33 to grab Alabama's Landon Collins—these happenings were probably for the best, as neither player would have been a better second-round pick than Eric Kendricks.
So, what gives? To begin with, Blanton was replaced by Andrew Sendejo late in Week 16 last season, and this decision carried over into Week 17. According to Pro Football Focus, Blanton played only three snaps in Minnesota's 2014 regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears.
Secondly, chronologically speaking, Spielman went out of his way to voice support and confidence in second-year safety Antone Exum this past weekend, according to Chris Tomasson. For those of you keeping track at home, Blanton now ranks third on the strong safety depth chart behind both Sendejo (whom I listed earlier as a possible roster cut) and Exum (who could very well open Week 1 as the starter opposite Harrison Smith).
Finally, Minnesota agreed to terms with Virginia safety Anthony Harris following the draft. Harris surprisingly went undrafted (possibly because some teams—I'm looking at you New England—were taking long snappers in the fifth round), despite being the No. 100 overall prospect on the big board of Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.
This excess of prospect opinions is essentially ramping up to the conclusion that Harris is the type of undrafted player who has the potential to not only make a 53-man roster, but has the ability to be a factor immediately on special teams and (potentially) defense.
Harris maintains the athleticism and physical frame to surpass Blanton's ceiling as a rookie. Add in that Zimmer and Spielman are beginning to favor both Sendejo and Exum more than the former Notre Dame defensive back, and it is very to easy to see why Blanton may not be wearing purple and gold much longer.
To add insult to injury, Minnesota would add roughly $1.5 million in salary-cap space as a result of releasing Blanton and receive only $52,763 in dead-money penalties.
Verdict: Anthony Harris draft casualty
CB Josh Robinson
Terence Newman has yet to take a snap for the Vikings; Mike Harris and Marcus Sherels have been role players throughout their tenures in Minnesota, and Blanton was a (barely) average starter for most of one season. Cornerback Josh Robinson, on the other hand, has played an important (essentially starting) role on the Vikings defense since he was selected with the No. 66 overall pick by Minnesota in 2012.
Since 2012, Robinson has played at least 650 snaps for the Vikings in three consecutive seasons, reaching his highest total of 690 in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus. The former Central Florida cornerback also produced his best season in his first year playing in Mike Zimmer's defense; Pro Football Focus gave him a plus-2.6 overall grade.
While Robinson did finish the season in the green—any score above 1.0 is highlighted green in the Pro Football Focus database—the reason his score isn't higher is due to his coverage grade (negative-1.5). In fact, Robinson finished with a negative coverage grade in eight games during the 2014 season, reaching an all-time low during a Week 11 matchup with the Chicago Bears.
Robinson, who stands at 5'10" and was not drafted by the Zimmer regime (he barely makes the 5'9" height cut Zimmer established this past weekend), was completely dominated by the formerly unstoppable duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey due to his small stature.
Keeping in mind that Jay Cutler is the one throwing the passes, Robinson was targeted 14 times while covering either Marshall or Jeffrey during this Week 11 game. He allowed a jaw-dropping 10 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus, which amounts to a 141.4 quarterback rating—Tony Romo led the NFL with a 113.2 quarterback rating in 2014.
Furthermore, Robinson struggles even more when playing slot cornerback; he received a negative-9.1 coverage grade in 2013 playing slot cornerback for Leslie Frazier's Tampa 2 zone defense. While this defensive scheme is completely outdated (why are Lovie Smith and Frazier still using it, seriously?), it does argue that Robinson has no feel for covering wide receivers lined up in the slot—he actually admitted his discomfort with this coverage to the media, per ESPN's Ben Goessling.
To recap, Robinson can't cover tall wide receivers when playing outside man coverage (Marshall may be gone, but No. 7 overall pick Kevin White replaces him), and he is even worse at covering slot receivers. He also doesn't fit the build Zimmer desires in his cornerbacks, and he transitions very slowly to new role assignments, despite being one of the fastest, most athletic defensive backs in the NFL, per Mockdraftable.com.
Add in Robinson's 6.6 2014 tackling efficiency (six missed tackles; ranked No. 53 out of 73 qualifying cornerbacks), per Pro Football Focus, and it becomes explicitly clear that he wouldn't be a Viking had Zimmer been at the helm in 2012.
Essentially, Robinson hasn't shown an ability to succeed in any coverage role the Zimmer defense uses, and he can't tackle efficiently, which is a cornerback trait the Vikings head coach harps on regularly.
Following the 2015 draft, though, Zimmer has a new toy: Trae Waynes. He is a player who represents the standard for what Zimmer is looking for in a cornerback both physically and athletically. There may be questions about his ability to "pattern match" in coverage, and he hasn't shown an ability to cover an entire route tree—specifically slants and outs—but he has the positional intelligence to learn and the athleticism to get results.
Xavier Rhodes is Minnesota's No. 1 cornerback and isn't going anywhere (probably ever, knowing Zimmer). Munnerlyn, who struggled (mightily) in his first season with the Vikings, will be playing almost exclusively slot cornerback—with a chip on his shoulder, per Chris Tomasson, due to the rumors of him being potentially cut—should yield dramatically different results in 2015.
Robinson should prove superior to Jabari Price, Shaun Prater, Jalil Carter, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Marcus Sherels, but this may not be enough. The Vikings seemingly see something in Price, Carter has been treated like a prize since being scooped up from the Canadian Football League and Van Dyke is a perfect match for Zimmer physically.
This leaves the undrafted free agent Coleman, who doesn't have any true physical superiorities but possesses the tenacity and physicality Zimmer demands of his cover men. There is some Antoine Winfield to his game, whether Coleman unleashes it (or not) during training camp remains to be seen, per DraftBreakdown.com—ignore the allowed completion (curl routes can be impossible to defend); watch how quickly and assertively Coleman jumps the receiver.
Finally, cutting Robinson would ultimately be more beneficial than consequential financially. The Vikings would have to pay him $174,250 due to the guaranteed portion of his rookie contract, but Minnesota would add $1.542 million to the piggy bank as well.
Robinson is an elite athletic talent; this is a definitive certainty. But he doesn't fit the defensive scheme Minnesota is planning to run for the foreseeable future, and his size severely limits his ability to be consistently successful in a division clouded by monstrous, athletic wide receivers. Add in that financial consequence isn't a worry and the fact that Harrison Smith is expected to request top-five safety money, and this should be an easy decision for Spielman, Zimmer and the Vikings rebranded defense.
Verdict: Trae Waynes draft casualty
All salary-cap information courtesy of OvertheCap.com. Statistics courtesy of Sports-reference.com, unless otherwise noted. NFL Scouting Combine results and video clips courtesy of Mockdraftable.com and Draftbreakdown.com, respectively.