Vikings Pro Bowl Trio on Chopping Block If Kirk Cousins Stays, Insider Says

Kirk Cousins

Getty Kirk Cousins came under fire by Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, who connected some shade from former Vikings executive and Broncos GM George Paton.

Coming next month, another episode of which Minnesota Vikings veteran will be cut.

The Vikings are again in salary cap hell, currently over the 2022 cap ceiling by $14.5 million, per OverTheCap. Last year, the Vikings cut veteran left tackle Riley Reiff to create enough cap space to reload the team’s defense.

In 2020, Minnesota saw a mass exodus of five defensive starters leave for free agency in the wake of Kirk Cousins‘ two-year, $66 million contract extension.

If the Vikings keep Cousins on the final year of that contract, Minnesota may once again have to shed cap weight elsewhere by mid-March to begin retooling the roster — or at the very least get out of the hole the old regime dug the franchise.

Appearing on the Sportrac podcast, ESPN’s Courtney Cronin speculated which veterans could be casualties this offseason — spoiler alert: they’re gut-wrenching decisions.

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Pro Bowl Trio Among Potential Trade Candidates in 2022

Looking over the Vikings books on the Sportrac podcastCronin speculated that getting Minnesota in a healthy financial space should be the first move made by new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

She revealed that Pro Bowlers Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith and Danielle Hunter are candidates to be traded or cut this offseason.

“First question for the new regime is how do we get our cap healthy,” Cronin said. “Is it Kirk, or is it others. It’s got to be one or the other if not both. If we leave the quarterback aside, there are plenty of ways to getting their cap healthy — by trading away Adam Thielen, Danielle Hunter or Harrison Smith.”

All three veterans were given considerable paydays for their loyalty and past performance in the Mike Zimmer-Rick Spielman brain trust. Dalvin Cook is also considered a potential cap casualty by Purple Insider’s Matthew Coller after the running back’s injury issues and hefty contract that made him the sixth-highest paid running back in the league.

The Vikings financial strategy throughout the Cousins era has been to kick the can further down the road by converting base salaries into bonuses and stretching those bonuses across void years to keep veteran talent around for a postseason run.

However, after two losing seasons, it’s all catching up to Minnesota.

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Thielen Carries Massive Cap Hit

Thielen’s average cap hit for the past three years of his 2019 contract extensions is roughly $8.9 million. For the next three seasons, he is set to carry an average cap hit of $17.8 million per year, according to OverTheCap.

“Adam’s contract right now, that has to get fixed,” Cronin said. “The guy has dealt with injury issues the last couple years. We knew when he got the extension and converted a base salary to a signing bonus of 10 million to help cap space that they’re going to be in that situation with him to restructure yet again. Or you can bring something back to yourself by trading him.

“If you were to move on from Thielen, you could you go draft another receiver. Yes, you can. And you can save money while doing it,” Cronin said. “There are other places where you can cut, but Thielen’s a good place to start if you’re going to get that number down.”

Harrison Smith agreed to a contract extension last offseason to create cap space. He carried a cap hit of $6.9 million in 2021 but is due $13.4 million this season and $17.2 million the following two seasons, per OverTheCap.

Hunter needs to either be traded or receive a contract extension before an $18 million roster bonus hits on the third day of the 2022 league year. He carries a $26.1 million cap hit if the Vikings neither of those options pans out and he plays out the final year of his restructured contract.

The money moves made the past few years have left the new regime no favors, and getting out from under those contractual blunders will be the pivot point of this first season with Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings’ new head coach.

Trading Cousins doesn’t solve the financial woes either, but a combination of contract extensions, restructures and trades will be needed to give the new regime in Minnesota the freedom to get out from under the past administration.

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