On one of the most hectic days of the year for NFL front offices, the Minnesota Vikings didn’t make any massive splashes — like dealing for Jadeveon Clowney — but Rick Spielman and Co. did pull off a pair of minor trades, made several noteworthy cuts (including a fan-favorite quarterback) and retained an uncharacteristic number of players at certain positions.
Here how the initial 53-man roster breaks down, bearing in mind the team could still tweak it with waiver-wire moves.
KEPT: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RELEASED: Kyle Sloter, Jake Browning
ANALYSIS: The most divisive topic this preseason amongst Vikings fans was the plight of Kyle Sloter, who based on game performance, seemed deserving of a shot to vie for the team’s backup quarterback spot. But the play that fans saw in games — which was once again solid, even if he lacked some of the finer quarterbacking nuances — rarely made its way to the practice field, where Sloter struggled with his spiral early in camp and threw a bevy of interceptions in the past couple weeks. The Vikings chose to release Sloter, whose career preseason touchdown-to-interception ratio sits at 11 to 1. Presuming the team gets rookie UDFA Jake Browning through to the practice squad, he’ll become the next developmental quarterback for the Vikings.
RUNNING BACK (5)
KEPT: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah, C.J. Ham
RELEASED: De’Angelo Henderson, Khari Blasingame
ANALYSIS: For the second straight year, the Vikings kept five backs. Thanks to his second straight flashy preseason, running back Mike Boone claimed a 53-man roster spot when many believed he was on the outside looking in early in training camp. Ameer Abdullah, largely thanks to his special teams prowess, made it as well. Fullback C.J. Ham fended off Khari Blasingame to remain on the team despite Blasingame’s tremendous three-touchdown preseason and rare athletic profile.
TIGHT END (4)
KEPT: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Tyler Conklin, Brandon Dillon
RELEASED: Cole Hikutini
PUP LIST: David Morgan
ANALYSIS: In a mild surprise, the Vikings opted to release Cole Hikutini after a strong training camp and instead rostered rookie UDFA Brandon Dillon out of NAIA Marian. Dillon finished the preseason as the second-highest-graded offensive player, per Pro Football Focus, completing an unlikely rise to the 53-man roster. That being said, Dillon may be susceptible to being waived if the Vikings activate David Morgan, or before if they make a waiver claim. Morgan, the fourth-year tight end, will go on the regular season physically unable to perform list while he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. He’ll be eligible to return Week 7 and possibly bolster the Vikings’ tight end depth with his run blocking.
WIDE RECEIVER (4)
KEPT: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson
RELEASED: Brandon Zylstra, Laquon Treadwell, Jeff Badet, Davion Davis, Alexander Hollins, Dillon Mitchell
ANALYSIS: It’s the end of an era for one of the biggest all-time Vikings draft disappointments. Laquon Treadwell was released after three seasons, mirroring former first-round bust Troy Williamson, who was traded after three years. While Williamson was a higher pick and laughably considered a replacement for Randy Moss at the time, he still amassed over 1,000 yards in his underwhelming Vikings career, while Treadwell ends his three-year run with just 517 yards, one touchdown and a handful of key drops. The true surprise was Brandon Zylstra getting cut, though reports are that Zylstra could rejoin the team after getting through waivers and spending a short time on the practice squad. Zylstra made eight catches in his three preseason games and already has a year on the roster under his belt. The Vikings are certainly watching the waiver wire closely, as four wide receivers is an unsustainably low number.
OFFENSIVE LINE (10)
KEPT: Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline, Brian O’Neill, Rashod Hill, Brett Jones, Dru Samia, Oli Udoh, Dakota Dozier
RELEASED: Aviante Collins, Nate Wozniak, John Keenoy, Cornelius Edison, Storm Norton
TRADED: Danny Isidora (to Miami for seventh-round pick)
ANALYSIS: The theme of this roster might be the Vikings opting for depth in the trenches, keeping 10 offensive linemen when they normally retain just nine. First, though, Minnesota was busy Friday striking a deal with the Miami Dolphins to get a seventh-round pick for Danny Isidora, the third-year guard who was unlikely to make the final roster. The deal gave Minnesota another late-round pick, which they like to stockpile, and sent Isidora back to the state of Florida, where he played college football at Miami. Minnesota waived Aviante Collins on Saturday, who might have served as a swing tackle/guard had he not suffered a left leg injury. His release opened the door for rookie Oli Udoh and veteran Dakota Dozier. Udoh’s upside and Dozier’s flexibility earned them the final spots. Rookie Dru Samia also got through after a slow start to training camp.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
KEPT: Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Shamar Stephen, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Stephen Weatherly, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, Hercules Mata’afa, Armon Watts
RELEASED: Tito Odenigbo, Karter Schult, Curtis Cothran, Ade Aruna, Stacy Keely, Anree Saint-Amour
NON-FOOTBALL INJURY: Tashawn Bower
ANALYSIS: The Vikings defensive line decisions essentially came down to two players: Hercules Mata’afa, the undersized defensive tackle coming off a knee injury, and Armon Watts, the rookie nose tackle who broke out his senior year at Arkansas. In the end, they kept both, giving them six (!) defensive tackles with different situational abilities. Odds are, the Vikings keep one or two inactive on most gamedays. Ten D-linemen is another high number.
KEPT: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Eric Wilson, Kentrell Brothers
RELEASED: Reshard Cliett, Greer Martini, Devante Downs, Cameron Smith
ANALYSIS: Out of a group that Mike Zimmer deemed the deepest he’s had, the Vikings ended up keeping just five linebackers, one fewer than usual. Kentrell Brothers ended up being the fifth choice when many believed he’d be replaced by a younger prospect like Cameron Smith, Devante Downs or journeyman Reshard Cliett. For Cliett, it’s a difficult pill to swallow after again coming close to making the active roster. Same for fifth-round pick Cameron Smith, whose cut is a bit of a surprise. In all likelihood, one or two of those waived will wind up on the practice squad.
KEPT: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd
ACQUIRED: Mark Fields (from Kansas City for conditional 2021 seventh-round pick)
RELEASED: Craig James, Duke Thomas
SUSPENDED: Holton Hill
ANALYSIS: Seeing their dearth of depth at corner, the Vikings made a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, giving up a future seventh-round pick for rookie UDFA Mark Fields, a speedy corner from Clemson. Fields was a rotational player for the Tigers and allowed a passer rating against of just 39.6 as a senior. He ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash at the combine (4.37) and benched the second-most reps (18) amongst corners. With Mike Hughes potentially a few weeks out from gameplay, Holton Hill suspended and no other rookie corners prepared to play a significant role, the Vikings took another flier on Fields to see if they can shape him into a contributor. After a perplexing start to the preseason where he was briefly injured and then held out of a game, Kris Boyd made the team with a strong preseason finish.
KEPT: Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, Marcus Epps
RELEASED: Derron Smith, Nate Meadors, Isaiah Wharton
ANALYSIS: Despite spending most of his time with the third team in training camp, sixth-round pick Marcus Epps made the team over AAF castoff Derron Smith. Epps gained favor during spring practices and showed enough throughout camp to win the job. If all things are equal, the Vikings typically tend to favor their own draft picks over journeymen like Smith. Epps offers another option to play in the slot and showed good ball-hawking ability this summer.
KEPT: Dan Bailey, Matt Wile, Austin Cutting
RELEASED: Kaare Vedvik
ANALYSIS: After surrendering a fifth-round pick to acquire Kaare Vedvik from the Baltimore Ravens, the Vikings waived the big leg of Vedvik following his rocky preseason that included three missed field goals and a handful of punts with long returns. Vedvik reportedly had a bidding war to gain his services, but things went south quickly for the Norwegian-born kicker. His struggles in Minnesota add another chapter to Minnesota’s sordid special teams history. Now the Vikings look smart to have retained Matt Wile and Dan Bailey, who will keep their jobs as kicker and punter.