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Monday Morning Mailbag: Roster Moves and Early Impressions from OTAs

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I greet you this Memorial Day with sincere gratitude to the fallen soldiers, as well as their family members and friends who were affected by ultimate sacrifices in service.

Soldiers gave their lives in the line of duty while defending freedoms we enjoy. Let's please remember those who gave all.

There are so many comments and conversations I've seen and heard from Bud Grant, either from previously recorded videos or when I've been present during an interview. One of the extreme privileges I've had during my time with the Vikings was being in the room when he did an extended interview with NFL Films.

View photos from the public celebration of life for Vikings Legend Bud Grant at U.S. Bank Stadium on May 21, 2023.

Tears flowed when he explained why he should not have the word hero attached in describing him. Although he was a veteran and extremely proud of his service, he named friends who had lost their lives while serving as heroes.

I don't really have a transition from that, but it's likely there are multiple readers who know full-well the meaning of Memorial Day because of the sacrifice of a family member or friend, so I wanted to express my sincere gratitude.

Last week, NFL Owners met in Minnesota and approved flexing of late-season Thursday Night Football games (with multiple restrictions), as well as allowing teams to signal for a fair catch on kickoffs between the 25-yard line and goal line and still be awarded the 25-yard line.

The Spring League Meeting also included a Coaching Accelerator that Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels and receivers coach Keenan McCardell attended. Vikings Assistant Head Coach Mike Pettine also led the second Diversity Coaching Summit hosted by the team last week.

Vikings players participated in their first week of voluntary Organized Team Activity practices last week and will be back on the field this week.

The Vikings keep adding receivers to their group, with the recent addition of Lucky Jackson. There will be some receivers that are going to be cut and some that are going to be sent down to the practice squad, who do you think will make the active roster? Of course Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison will be a part of the active roster.

— Matt in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

The Vikings signed Lucky Jackson last week and waived outside linebacker Kenny Willekes, so that boosts the receivers position to 12 players (the roster limit is 91 for the Vikings right now because International Player Pathway participant Junior Aho does not count against the limit). Teams usually keep between five and seven receivers on their 53-man, plus another couple on the practice squad.

In addition to Jefferson (was not at the open OTA practice) and Addison (did not participate), I'd say it's more than safe to write K.J. Osborn in ink.

View photos from the Vikings OTA practice which took place on May 25 at the TCO Performance Center.

Jalen Nailor and Jalen Reagor were heavily involved, as was newcomer Brandon Powell, with the first team in the open OTA. It's still too early to see how any camp battles might shake out.

But it's also clear that the Vikings want as much competition at the position as they can get.

McCardell was asked about the receivers group in a media session on Wednesday and said, "We have guys there with a lot of talent that will bring a lot of competition to the room."

"It will make it interesting for you guys to figure out who is going to be there, but I always know, an old coach used to tell me the cream rises to the top when competition is there, and it's going to get the best out of every single person in my room, so I can't wait," McCardell said. "I'm champing at the bit to get to training camp. We go through all the OTAs and stuff like that, but the true competition really comes when training camp starts."

He'd know, having played from 1991-2007 after beginning his career as an undrafted free agent.

The Vikings GM continues to make decisions that I cannot understand. Picking up yet another WR at the expense of Kenny Willekes is an awful move. Willekes has had bad luck with the injuries, but when on the field, he has shown a high-end motor and grit, something this team desperately needs. Some organization will make the Vikings sorry for this move. Add this on to bad trades for WR Reagor, last year, getting fleeced in the [Za'Darius] Smith trade a few weeks ago, and wasting an opportunity to draft Kyle Hamilton, a draft ago, and one is left wondering what the upsides were for these moves (Ed Ingram?). The real kicker, hiring a defensive coordinator who held his job for … wait for it … one year. If someone were to make this list of mistakes at any other new job, I doubt they would have the position going into Year 2. Of course, the Rams, Broncos and Lions can rejoice in the fact that they will continue to have a dance partner who trades for marginal talent and squanders higher draft value – a winning equation. Mr. [Jim] Finks he is not. And while a 13-4 record in 2022 seemed impressive, the Giants and the entire NFL knew what a mirage that really was. As great legends of Vikings past depart, one is reminded of what this organization once was and what it is now, analytically speaking.

— Justin Angeles

Teams roll so deep with receivers during the offseason and training camp because those players run so much in every practice, so it's actually not a bad thing to spread workload across extra players at that position, particularly with a few players not participating in OTA practices.

Willekes was a lot of fun to watch when he got into six games in 2021 — kind of like seeing the Tasmanian Devil in pads. There was some production, but he missed all of his rookie and third seasons with injuries.

Perhaps he wasn't ideal for new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores' system? If that's the case, then it's better to give Willekes an opportunity to go somewhere else. He cleared waivers, meaning no team claimed him, and is a free agent. Willekes has always been friendly in interactions and was involved in community visits this offseason. I wish him well.

The Reagor trade enabled the Vikings to acquire a former first-round pick, add depth at receiver and shore up the punt returner spot last season in exchange for a 2023 seventh-round pick and a 2024 conditional (fourth or fifth, depending on Reagor's production).

While Reagor was not spectacular in the punt return game, he was solid, and that is valuable in the overall workings of a team, especially one with a strong offense.

I'll address the Smith trade in the next question. As for not taking Hamilton and trading down before selecting Lewis Cine in 2022, it's still too early to assess either player. Cine's rookie season was cut short by a broken leg, but he's moving well and practicing without limitations.

I really don't get the disdain for the hiring of Flores. He helped the Patriots win four of their Super Bowls and is establishing an intensity of purpose for the defense and has been a head coach. The offense was a little surprised by the defense last week.

I'd recommend giving him a chance before judging, but it's also important to keep in mind the Vikings defense hasn't been in the top half of the league the past couple of seasons.

I also don't know that full opportunity is being extended to current Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

Jim Finks' success as Vikings GM from 1964-73 involved numerous hits of draft picks on the way to helping Minnesota reach its first two of four Super Bowls, but the Vikings were 22-29-5 in his first four seasons (three with Norm Van Brocklin as head coach and one with Grant). In addition to some great drafts, Finks also executed some important trades, but he and his contemporaries did not have to navigate free agency and the salary cap the way current GMs must.

If I had told you this time a year ago the 2022 Vikings would go 13-4 and win the NFC North with a first-time GM and head coach, would you have taken it?

The playoff loss dampened the vibe for all involved, but that's a strong start.


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Good morning to all Vikes,

My question is in regards to the Za'Darius Smith trade. For the most productive edge rusher on our team and one of the best in the conference, to only get the equivalent of a Round 5 pick for him seems very poor, with the 6th and 7th round equal to the other 5th round for us. I do think that our recent trades including the previous two drafts have all been below par. Your thoughts?

— Andy Turton in Rugby, England

Smith's production in the first half of the season was great, but he had 0.5 sacks from Weeks 10-18 while Danielle Hunter clicked in and finished to lead the team with 10.5 sacks.

Smith willfully signed a three-year deal with the Vikings last season and changed his mind. He posted a farewell message early in the offseason, despite being under contract for two more years. So if he was going to hold out and not play, and the Vikings were going to be on the hook for his full cap hit, then that would be a detriment to the rest of the team. Who knows if he would have held out?

What we do know is that Adofo-Mensah managed to reach a solution that shed salary cap and gained draft flexibility with a fifth-round pick in each of the next two years. He also gave a player an opportunity to go elsewhere and found a landing spot that is in the AFC.

People were somewhat critical of this year's draft, but Minnesota went in picking 23rd and started with five picks. The Vikings added one selection this year and banked another next year, so that gives Adofo-Mensah more to navigate the board with.

We still need RB [Dalvin] Cook for one more year? Why trade him? Thanks.

— Don Glynn

Speculation about Cook's future has been plentiful this offseason, but he remains under contract, albeit with a high cap hit. He was not at the open OTA last week.

Alexander Mattison said he's been staying in contact with Cook via FaceTime. Mattison also expressed his happiness in returning to Minnesota after briefly surveying free agency.

It was a crowded market among running backs, and as we've previously pointed out teams have been moving away from feature backs, but the Vikings have gone from being over the salary cap a couple of months ago to under it.

Adofo-Mensah and Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell have been highly complimentary of Cook.