The Minnesota Vikings‘ spring cleaning to get under the deflated salary cap has come at the expense of the cornerbacks room.
The Vikings released practice-squad cornerbacks Tae Hayes and Cordrea Tankersley, who combined to play in three games for the Vikings, last week. That was just the start of the offseason clearing of cap space.
Minnesota, reaching an ultimatum with 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes, is “not expected to pick up Hughes’ fifth-year option by the deadline [of] the first week of May, Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson reported.
Hughes is under contract for the 2021 season, carrying a $3.14 million cap hit, and is entering a make or break year after an injury-riddled career so far — playing in 24 of 50 games while rostered. Not offering his fifth-year option frees Minnesota from owing the University of Central Florida prospect roughly $9.7 million in 2022, per Tomasson.
Hughes has one last chance to prove his worth to the team that drafted him, meanwhile, the Vikings decided to not tender free-agent add Chris Jones, who played eight games last season, per Tom Pelissero. Jones will be a free agent this offseason, while Minnesota saves $260,000 in cap space.
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Hughes Needs to Stay Healthy in 2021
The Vikings not exercising Hughes’ fifth-year option, available for first-round draft picks, may seem as damnation to Hughes. However, he still has a chance to make his mark approaching a pivotal year for the franchise.
Hughes remains a likely starter alongside third-round rookie Cameron Dantzler on the outside and with first-rounder Jeff Gladney in nickel packages. The secondary will be vital to turning around the defense which allowed 393.3 yards per game — the sixth-most in the league.
The Vikings defense allowed 7.65 yards per pass attempt, ranking 30th in the league — but that wasn’t entirely on the secondary. The defensive line produced the third-lowest pass-rush win rate last season (36%) and had the second-worst run Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), per Football Outsiders.
Minnesota’s defensive struggles need to be resolved in the trenches, but after the secondary was projected to be the biggest liability of the 2020 season — replacing three starters from 2019 — the group turned a corner, producing the 14th ranked DVOA pass defense.
Hughes’ return could bolster the secondary, which could become an anchor of the team.
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Jones Let Go After Troubling Season
Jones’ release didn’t create much cap space. It likely came down to an evaluation of Jones’ play in 2020.
Jones played 267 defensive snaps, largely in the second half of the season. Jones’ tackling was a glaring issue throughout the season. He missed five tackles last season, including a costly one against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Vikings move forward with Hughes, Dantzler, Gladney, Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand and Dylan Mabin at cornerback. Minnesota should be looking to add at least another corner this offseason.
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