Saturday’s deadline to get to the 53-man roster limit included plenty of surprises and stunning news for the Minnesota Vikings.
A team with hopes of a Super Bowl run with a deep roster had to make some tough decisions.
The first big domino to fall was the announced release of defensive end Brian Robison, the longest-tenured player on the roster. Next came the news of cornerback Terence Newman’s retirement and subsequent joining of the coaching staff.
Veteran receiver Kendall Wright was released. Center Cornelius Edison, who started three preseason games as Pat Elflein recovered from offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries, was let go on Saturday among the final 21 cuts.
The roster could change before Minnesota hosts the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. The Vikings could add during the weekend as they search the waiver wire from the league-wide cuts. But for now, Minnesota has set its initial 2018 roster.
Here’s a closer look:
- QUARTERBACK (3)
Starter: Kirk Cousins
Backups: Trevor Siemian and Kyle Sloter
The Vikings didn’t take any chances trying to pass Sloter through to the practice squad. Sloter’s preseason, where he led the team to three wins in the fourth quarter, was enough to believe he might get plucked by another team. So, Minnesota will roll with three quarterbacks on the roster.
Cousins is on the spot as the $84 million, franchise quarterback. Expect the transition to continue into the regular season after the first-team offense was up-and-down in the preseason. Cousins and the offense will need some more time. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he’s sticking with Siemian as the top backup.
- RUNNING BACK (5)
Starters: Dalvin Cook and fullback C.J. Ham.
Backups: Latavius Murray, Mike Boone and Roc Thomas
Minnesota went heavy at running back even as it weighed difficult decisions elsewhere. Cook and Murray are the 1-2 punch as the Vikings will want to run the ball. Ham is the lone fullback and someone new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo talked about highly last week. Ham could get some unique opportunities to make an impact.
The belief was Boone and Thomas – and the released Mack Brown – were vying for one spot. Instead, Minnesota opted to keep both Boone and Thomas as they had their share of highlights in the preseason. Thomas had a big first game both as a runner and receiver but dealt with an injury recently, opening up Boone for his opportunity. Boone showed a strong running style and able hands as a receiver.
- WIDE RECEIVER (5)
Starters: Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen
Backups: Laquon Treadwell, Stacy Coley and Brandon Zylstra
The first three spots were set with Diggs, Thielen and Treadwell. Wright was signed in the offseason to add some veteran experience, but Treadwell’s continued development along with the potential of Coley and Zylstra, the former Canadian Football League star, made Wright expendable. Diggs and Thielen can both play inside in the slot when the Vikings go to three receivers. Treadwell should have an opportunity to break through after being a first-round pick in 2016.
The fight for the final spots were tough. Cayleb Jones was suspended for four games and then was arrested last week, effectively ending his chance. Veteran Tavarres King was waived with an injury designation. The final spot might have come down to Zylstra or Chad Beebe. Beebe was a star of the preseason with a touchdown catch in Week 3. Zylstra, who had dealt with injuries earlier, got his chance and had a touchdown catch in the final preseason game. Stacy Coley has had trouble staying healthy but offers potential.
- TIGHT END (3)
Starter: Kyle Rudolph
Backups: David Morgan and Tyler Conklin
Rudolph and Morgan were set in their roles. The final spot came down to Conklin, a fifth-round draft pick this year, Blake Bell and Tyler Hoppes. Conklin has struggled at times in training camp and the preseason but possibly brings more potential down the road.
- OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Starters: Riley Reiff, Tom Compton, Pat Elflein, Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill
Backups: Aviante Collins, Danny Isidora, Brett Jones and Brian O’Neill
With just over a week before the season’s first game, those outside the Vikings’ building aren’t quite sure who will be starting against San Francisco. Edison was released and Elflein was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Saturday. Elflein has not played or practiced.
Barring another roster move, it would appear Minnesota will go with Isidora or Jones at center in Week 1. Isidora played center in a game for the first time when he started the final preseason game. Jones, who was acquired last week in a trade with the New York Giants, has played guard and center while starting 13 games last season. Jones saw action in the final preseason game at both spots.
Assuming health, three of the four spots appear set. Rieff is back at left tackle. Remmers has made the move to right guard and Hill is the planned starter at right tackle. When Nick Easton was lost for the season after neck surgery, Compton took over at left guard.
O’Neill is considered a bit of a project at right tackle, but he’s shown well in the preseason. Aviante Collins is a backup swing tackle who has gotten time at guard in preseason games.
- DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Starters: Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Sheldon Richardson and Danielle Hunter
Backups: Tashawn Bower, Jalyn Holmes, Jaleel Johnson, David Parry and Stephen Weatherly
This is where the roster crunch really started to come into effect. Robison was a team leader and longtime starter. He lost his starting spot to Hunter last season but was still an important backup and rotational piece. Bower and Weatherly are two young ends who the Vikings wanted to hold on to.
The starting four is set and gets even better if Richardson plays to his potential. Johnson will become a valuable backup at tackle, having shown the ability to play nose or the three-technique spot. Parry gives Minnesota a veteran backup and more of a traditional nose tackle. Holmes is a fourth-round draft pick this year that the Vikings are trying to develop inside at tackle.
- LINEBACKERS (5)
Starters: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Ben Gedeon
Backups: Eric Wilson, Devante Downs
Minnesota is light on linebackers and Zimmer said two weeks ago that he wasn’t happy with the depth at the position. This could be a spot the Vikings look to add through a waiver claim. For now, they kept five, though they play two most of the time.
In the base defense, Gedeon starts. In the nickel, which Minnesota plays in the majority of the snaps, it’s Barr and Kendricks on the field. Wilson was a core special teams player last year and will be again this season, but he’s also shown progress as a linebacker on defense. He could get some action when Barr or Kendricks needs a break. Downs was a seventh-round draft pick this year but has dealt with injuries recently.
- SAFETIES (5)
Starters: Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo
Backups: Anthony Harris, George Iloka, Jayron Kearse
Here’s one spot where the Vikings went heavy. The signing of Iloka two weeks ago appeared to create a log jam at the position but Minnesota kept all three experienced backups. Smith is an All-Pro and Sendejo has held on to his starting spot even with Iloka in town.
Iloka has experience in the defense because of his time with Zimmer in Cincinnati. Harris and Kearse are special teams’ players and Harris has experience as a starter with the Vikings.
- CORNERBACKS (6)
Starters: Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes
Backups: Mackensie Alexander, Holton Hill, Mike Hughes and Marcus Sherels
Here’s another spot Minnesota decided to go young with a veteran moving – in this case, Newman’s retirement. Rhodes and Waynes are entrenched as the starters and there is potential in the three young backups.
Alexander will get the first shot at being the top nickel back and playing inside. The coaches have spoken highly of Alexander’s improvement after he resisted the move inside at times in the past. Hughes, the rookie first-round draft pick, has also shown the ability to play inside and outside. Hughes will eventually force his way in. Will it be this season?
Holton Hill was a priority signing as an undrafted free agent and the team decided to stick with him because of his potential. Sherels again holds on to his spot as an emergency corner and the team’s top returner.
- SPECIALISTS (3)
Kicker: Daniel Carlson
Punter: Ryan Quigley
Long snapper: Kevin McDermott
Daniel Carlson, the rookie fifth-round draft pick, beat out incumbent Kai Forbath. After Carlson missed two field-goal attempts in the third preseason game, he came back strong in the fourth game. Quigley has had a tough preseason but he was unchallenged for the punting job. McDermott returns as the long snapper.
Sherels will be a main returner and core special teams player. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has said he envisions Hughes as the No. 1 kickoff returner and Sherels as the top punt returner. We’ll see if that holds true in Week 1. Hill got a chance returning kickoffs and punts in the fourth preseason game.