Entering the fourth and final preseason game last Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings had 90 players on their active roster. By 4 p.m. ET Saturday, that number had to be cut to 53. As teams began to fill up their ten-man practice squads on Sunday, more moves were made, again altering the final 53. After adding three players on Labor Day, the 2017 Minnesota Vikings final roster was finally set. Below are three takeaways from this weekend’s transactions.
Three Takeaways from the Minnesota Vikings Final Roster
A Completely Different Starting Offensive Line Enters 2017
Ask anyone who consistently watched the Vikings last season, and most will agree that the offensive line derailed a once-promising season. With season-ending injuries to starting left tackle Matt Kalil, starting right guard Brandon Fusco, and right tackle Andre Smith before the team went into its Week 6 bye week, the unit was never able to gel. The team tried to keep the line afloat by signing former first-overall pick Jake Long to fill in for Kalil, but a torn Achilles put Long on injured reserve. A backup right tackle to start the season, T.J. Clemmings attempted to fill in for Kalil but struggled, giving up sacks and taking untimely penalties.
Fast forward to this preseason, and Kalil, Fusco, and Smith had all left via free agency. Clemmings was trying to fill a new role as a backup guard, and the team brought in veteran tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to bookend the line. The team drafted center Pat Elflein in the third round from Ohio State. A strong preseason made it appear that Elflein would get the starting center job, alongside incumbent linemen Alex Boone and Joe Berger.
So it came as a mild surprise Saturday when it was announced that the team was cutting Clemmings and Boone. Although Clemmings wasn’t a starter, he had experience along the line and was expected to add depth. Boone, meanwhile, was reportedly asked by the team to take a pay cut one year after signing a four-year, $26.8 million deal. When he refused, the team parted ways, opening the door for third year guard/center Nick Easton to take the starting left guard spot.
Long story longer, the team will enter their September 11 matchup with the New Orleans Saints with no starting offensive line position returning. Berger, the starting right guard, was the starting center for the team in 2015 and 2016. So even though this position group likely won’t remind fans of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line, you can’t say that general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer didn’t try to improve one of the NFL’s worst lines in 2016.
Keeping Six Wide Receivers on the Active Roster
With veteran wideout Michael Floyd set to serve a four-game suspension due to an extreme DUI from last December, the team had a decision to make regarding their wide receivers. While serving this suspension, Floyd will not count against the current 53-man active roster. So the team had to decide how many receivers were worth keeping around before Floyd returns in Week 5.
Most teams carry five or six receivers on their active roster, so whoever the Vikings decided to keep in their final cuts, they had to add one to that number. Three were locks to make the team, as the team had already invested in veterans Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and second-year player Laquon Treadwell. Behind them, fifth-round pick Rodney Adams, seventh-round pick Stacy Coley, and sixth-year veteran Jarius Wright headlined a receiver race that weighed tenure against potential.
While Wright was a solid role player in his first four seasons with the Vikings, he and quarterback Sam Bradford never developed much of a chemistry in 2016, and Wright only caught 11 passes for 67 yards and one touchdown. So when Adams, who caught two touchdown passes and returned kicks and punts, and Coley, who caught ten passes for 165 yards, flashed this preseason, many assumed Wright would be the odd man out. But with the team holding onto Wright, it assures that, at least for four weeks, the team will be rolling with six receivers before likely making a cut among the group to make room for Floyd.
Rookies Make the Roster While Taking Different Paths
In all, 10 rookies made the Vikings’ active roster. Seven of those were draft picks, while three were undrafted rookie free agents. Five rookies make up half of the ten-man practice squad. Two are draft picks, two are undrafted free agents, and one was claimed off of a different squad (more on him in a second).
This is telling because the team’s 2016 draft class provided very little production in its rookie campaign. So Spielman and company were aggressive in providing competition throughout the team while actively pursuing diamonds in the rough who slipped through the draft.
Second-round running back Dalvin Cook, Elflein, and fourth-round linebacker Ben Gedeon are likely going to be starters Week 1. Adams, Coley, fourth-round defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, and undrafted free agent defensive end Tashawn Bower figure to be role players who will likely see the field quite a bit. As is the case with most rookies, they will figure to progress as the season goes on, and hopefully provide solid depth for a team that suffered countless injuries in 2016.
Speaking of injuries, with quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Bradford’s futures with the team uncertain, the team went out and signed Kyle Sloter to their practice squad, paying him almost three times the practice squad minimum to acquire his services. While Sloter went undrafted out of Northern Colorado in this past draft, he wowed Denver Bronco fans with a preseason that saw him complete 72 percent of his passes along with three touchdown passes. He only had one season as a starting quarterback in a bizarre college career, so he will be a long-term project. But for a team that has nothing set in stone at the position beyond 2017, this is the type of savvy move that could pay off with patience.
Even though the roster is set for now, there will still be a lot of turnover between now and the end of the season. Injuries, performance, and needs will influence spontaneous moves. Still, this is the main makeup of the team, and if built solidly, the team will have minimal transactions to make in its hopes of being the first team to host a Super Bowl in their home stadium.