Back in February, the Minnesota Vikings found themselves at a crossroads. After being beaten by a younger, faster team, they had to decide whether to keep forging ahead or move toward a youth movement. With the salary cap a key factor, they parted ways with several mainstays including Xavier Rhodes, Linval Joseph, and Everson Griffen.
The mass exodus of talent was needed for the Vikings to have flexibility in the offseason. If they were paying attention, they would have looked at Mike Zimmer’s coaching tree and realized they hadn’t done enough.
That’s because on the other branch of the Bill Parcells coaching tree sits one of the masters of letting go key talent. Bill Belichick has built an empire in New England by utilizing the talent he has to the best of his ability and dumping them at their peak value. For Zimmer and Rick Spielman, this would have been useful information when constructing this year’s roster, because there were several veterans that Belichick would have moved on from before it was too late.
Disclaimer: This list does not include Kirk Cousins’ extension this past off-season. You don’t have to be as smart as Belichick to understand that that wasn’t a great call.
Just over a year after signing Rudolph to a contract extension, the tight end finds himself in everybody’s fantasy trade list. That’s enough indication that the Vikings should have moved on from Rudolph, but instead, they gave him $36 million to block.
Among qualifying tight ends this season, Rudolph ranks 32nd in Pro Football Focus’ run blocking grade and 36th in pass blocking. In addition to providing virtually nothing between the 20s, Rudolph’s value has been reduced to making a single one-handed catch in the end zone annually and 123 yards receiving through five games this season.
This situation is similar to the one that Belichick had with Rob Gronkowski. As one of the greatest tight ends of all time, Gronkowski was a key part of the Patriots’ dynasty, but he was starting to break down. With back injuries mounting, the Patriots tried to ship Gronkowski to Detroit, but instead he opted to retire for a life chugging Red Bulls on party ships. (Narrator: With the whole social distancing thing putting a wrench into things, and Gronkowski has returned with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he has better numbers than Rudolph.)
The Vikings should have made a similar move last offseason. By letting him play out the final year of his old deal, they would have been home free after a $7.5 million cap hit in 2019. Instead, the Vikings are left trying to ditch an $8.8 million cap hit at the deadline.
Before Kyle Shanahan was heading to the local community college to find his next running back, Bill Belichick was shuffling his backfield like a deck of cards while winning multiple Super Bowls. In fact, they haven’t had a Pro Bowl running back since Corey Dillon made the cut in 2004. The reason? The Patriots never give their running backs a second contract.
That message never found its way to Minnesota, and Spielman opened up the checkbook for Dalvin Cook. As an electric playmaker, Cook deserved a big payday in theory. He’s the centerpiece of the Vikings offense and Cousins’ numbers are better with Cook in the backfield than when he’s on the sideline.
The only problem is that Cook finds himself on the sideline way too much. After missing Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, Cook has played in just 34-of-54 (62.9%) games since being drafted in 2017. Some of the injuries were bad luck, but they are also a sign that Cook may not be able to be the workhorse they need.
Instead, the Vikings could have saved more money by leaning on 2019 third-round pick Alexander Mattison. While Mattison doesn’t have the explosiveness that Cook has, his peripherals are either on par or better than Cook’s through the past couple of seasons. That could have been useful to let Cook walk, ride out Mattison and replace him with another back once his rookie deal expired.
Shortly after starting their fire sale by sending off Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore, news broke that Hunter wants to be the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. For a player who was collecting sacks at a historic rate prior to this season, it’s a something he certainly deserves. However, it wouldn’t be one that Belichick would be willing to provide.
Over the years, several defenders have demanded big contracts from the Patriots. Each time, the Patriots let them walk only to see them become a burden on a team’s cap. Along the defensive line, Richard Seymour wanted more money from the Patriots and they replied by booking him on a flight to Oakland. Jamie Collins wanted a big deal and was exiled to Cleveland. Even Chandler Jones was sent packing to Arizona when he asked for the bag.
Instead, the Patriots decided to spend their money on where it matters: cornerbacks and quarterbacks.
With the Vikings struggling in both areas, some added cap flexibility could allow them to get someone to help the secondary while also adding the draft capital to acquire a quarterback. Nobody wants to see a 25-year-old superstar get sent out the door, but it might be best for what Minnesota needs in the future.
In retrospect this might be an insane list, and you might be sitting there thinking yeah great call Chris, let’s get rid of our best offensive and defensive player. But it’s undeniable that the years of stretching out contracts and holding onto veterans for too long have come to roost as the Vikings head into salary cap hell in 2021 and 2022. I’m not saying all three of these guys shouldn’t be kept around, I’m just saying Belichick could’ve made a hell of a case to move on from each of them.