As Vikings fans know all too well, it was just over two years ago that the team was coming off a devastating NFC Championship game loss to the Saints, who would go on to capture their first Super Bowl title that season. Heading into that content, the Vikings’ offensive line was in great shape thanks to players such as guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, while the secondary was anchored by an emerging young talent in Cedric Griffin, who had signed a long-term contract extension heading into that season.
However, things have not exactly gone well for the club since the opening kickoff of that game, which is why the three aforementioned players being released on Saturday should not be necessarily viewed as an indictment on each player but rather that the Vikings are looking towards the future and specifically next week’s free agency period, which begins on Tuesday.
In that loss to the Saints, Griffin tore his ACL his left knee on a special teams play late in the game. He worked his tail off in the offseason and managed to return early in the 2010 campaign only to see that season go up in smoke thanks to another ACL tear, this one coming in his other knee, in a October loss to the New York Jets. Coming off two major knee injuries in a year-and-a-half, Griffin was not the same player he was pre-knee injuries in 2011.
Injuries have been a factor in the decline of both Hutchinson and Herrera as well. Hutchinson, a seven-time Pro Bowler who just completed his sixth season in Purple, has been one of the league’s premier offensive linemen for going on a decade now. But shoulder issues and at least one reported concussion over the past two seasons have taken a toll on the now 34-year-old. With the Vikings likely having a high roster-turnover this offseason in anticipation of a new-look team come this fall, it makes sense to free up the money Hutchinson had coming to him while also allowing him to possibly end his career elsewhere with a chance to start and contribute. Maybe he’ll rejoin former Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress in Cleveland, where Childress is now the Offensive Coordinator?
As for Herrera, he too suffered an ACL injury that derailed a promising career, and has struggled to return to his pre-injury form. Though he started 12 games for the team last season, he often battled more minor knee / leg problems and had to be replaced due to said issues a few different times in-game. Though not an All-Pro caliber player at any point in his career, Herrera was a great team leader and a vocal guy in the locker room that won’t be easy to replace in that sense.
With these three moves, the Vikings are now better positioned to make a splash in the upcoming free agency period, which against begins on Tuesday, March 13 at 3 p.m. CT. Could the likes of Chargers WR Vincent Jackson be in the Vikings future? How about Titans CB Courtland Finnegan? With lots of cap space and the No. 3 pick in April’s NFL Draft, things are certainly looking up for a team that hasn’t had a lot of things go its way since that fateful night in New Orleans 26 months ago.