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Here’s Why the 2023 Vikings Will Feel Weird and Different


The Vikings Final Injury Report: Week 14
Oct 16, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) after a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports.

The 2022 Minnesota Vikings won 13 games in Kevin O’Connell’s first year as head coach, the most in Vikings history by a rookie skipper, surpassing Dennis Green’s commendable 11-5 effort 30 years ago.

But that does not mean the Vikings are “this close” to Super Bowl contention.

Here’s Why the 2023 Vikings Will Feel Weird and Different

The team’s defense was thoroughly exposed and embarrassed two weeks ago at home versus the New York Giants, so fans should reasonably expect a defensive overhaul, which began a week and a half ago with the exit of defensive bossman Ed Donatell.

the 2023 Vikings Will Feel
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The defense needs immediate repair if the franchise wishes to remain a playoff or Super Bowl contender, a daunting assignment for the team that ranks fourth-worst per available cap space as of January 30th, according to OverTheCap. Therefore, to fix the defense, new blood is required, and that must arrive via free agency or the draft.

To obtain the funds for free agency — and to afford existing players like Justin Jefferson, Brian O’Neill, T.J. Hockenson, and Kirk Cousins — veteran players will be targeted for contractual restructuring, trade, or outright release.

1 Vikings Theory Is All
Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

This is the list of top-paid Vikings players on tap for 2023 per scheduled cap hit:

  • Kirk Cousins ($36.2m)
  • Adam Thielen ($19.9m)
  • Brian O’Neill ($19.6m)
  • Harrison Smith ($19.1m)
  • Za’Darius Smith ($15.5m)
  • Dalvin Cook ($14.0m)
  • Danielle Hunter ($13.1m)
  • Eric Kendricks ($11.4m)
  • T.J. Hockenson ($9.3m)
  • Davlin Tomlinson ($7.5m)

And this is why the 2023 Vikings will feel weird or different: only two or three of those above players are guaranteed to return next season.

For the Vikings, 'Ugly' Works Just Fine
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell celebrates the win after the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Cousins is a quarterback — with a no-trade clause — so he’s likely one of the 2-3 who will be back. Thielen’s $19.9 million doesn’t equate to his 2022 performance, and he could be traded or released. Brian O’Neill is a shoo-in to return once he heals his partially-torn Achilles.

Harrison Smith may accept a restructure, but $19.1 million is too expensive if he does not. Za’Darius Smith disappeared for most of the second half of the season; he could be released. Dalvin Cook is an expensive running back, and “analytics guys” like general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah tend not to invest heavily at the position. Danielle Hunter is the 25th highest-paid EDGE rusher per 2023 cap hit; he probably wants more money. It is unclear if Minnesota will agree.

Eric Kendricks’ production dipped in 2022, and he can be released for huge cap savings. T.J. Hockenson is a guaranteed-to-be-back guy. And Dalvin Tomlinson is a question mark because he can command a fat contract on the open free-agent market.

Vikings Week 16 Final Injury Report
Sep 30, 2022; Thundridge, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54 at press conference at Hanbury Manor. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

If you’re keeping score at home, that is these men who are close to locks as 2023 Vikings:

  • Kirk Cousins
  • Brian O’Neill
  • T.J. Hockenson

These players are shrouded in contractual uncertainty:

  • Adam Thielen
  • Harrison Smith
  • Za’Darius Smith
  • Dalvin Cook
  • Danielle Hunter
  • Eric Kendricks
  • Dalvin Tomlinson

Many players from the second list will depart, most of whom were core contributors in 2022 and long before. Vikings fans could somewhat straightforwardly watch Thielen, Cook, Kendricks, and others depart Minnesota.

The 2023 roster will feel weird, different, and new.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.


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