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Monday Morning Mailbag: Roster Moves & 2021 Draftees

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Welcome to Week 1 of the 2022 regular season.

The Vikings are set to host the Packers to open a season for just the second time ever and first with fans at U.S. Bank Stadium (the Border Battle to open 2020 was eerily quiet). That matchup is scheduled to kick off at 3:25 p.m. (CT).

The past week has been filled to the brim with roster news for the Vikings and across the NFL as teams reduced their rosters to the 53-player maximum for the regular season and established practice squads of up to 16 players.

Minnesota was additionally active, trading veteran offensive lineman Jesse Davis and acquiring defensive lineman Ross Blacklock and receiver Jalen Reagor in deals with Houston and Philadelphia.

We'll get to the corresponding moves below, but first, here's a little info on the regular-season lineup for programming co-produced by the Vikings Entertainment Network, KFAN 100.3-FM and FOX 9.

(I'm including briefly in the Mailbag because we had a question over the summer on whether Head Coach Kevin O'Connell would be participating in Xs and Os. I can now report he is scheduled to do so, but there might be some episodes with an assistant coach.)

KFAN Broadcasts

Vikings Rewind, 6:30 p.m. Mondays

Vikings Country, 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays

Xs & Os featuring Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays

The Audible, 6 p.m. Thursdays

The Tailgate, 6:30 p.m. Thursdays

Minnesota Vikings Podcast, 6:30 p.m. Fridays

Don't forget you can check out the Vikings Radio Network's pregame coverage, starting approximately two hours before kickoff.

FOX 9 Broadcasts

The Audible, 10 p.m. Fridays on FOX 9+ and 10 p.m. Saturdays on FOX 9

Vikings GameDay Live, 9:30 to 11 a.m. for home games; 10 to 11 a.m. for road games on FOX 9

Vikings Postgame Tonight, 10:35 p.m. on FOX 9

Teams have been cutting players to make the final 53. My question is what is the difference between a release and waiving a player?

— Luke Torkelson in Thief River Falls, Minnesota

This is a great, topical question.

Release vs. waive has to do with the number of years the player has been in the league.

Players with fewer than four accrued seasons must be exposed to waivers, which allows other teams the opportunity to make a claim on the player. In most cases, waivers are "no recall," which means "no backsies" for teams that have put a player on waivers and want to change their mind.

Here is an overview from the NFL operations manual

Once a player is waived, the 31 other clubs can file a claim to obtain that player or waive their chance to do so.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.

From the first business day after the Super Bowl until the day after Week 3 of the following regular season concludes, the claiming order is the same as the draft (based on the previous season's inverse order of finish). Right now, Jacksonville has first dibs on all players waived and can make claims on multiple players before Detroit gets a chance at any — as long as the Jaguars stay within the roster limitations by making the necessary number of cuts to make way for players claimed.

After Week 3 concludes, assignments are based on the inverse order of teams' win-loss records in that season.

Harrison Hand recently was waived by the Vikings. He didn't make it very far before the New York Giants (fifth in the order) claimed him. Armon Watts and Ihmir Smith-Marsettee similarly became Bears early in the waiver order.

Released is the method for cutting vested veteran players (at least four accrued seasons) who are then free to sign with any team they wish.

Can you explain the difference between the players that were signed to the practice squad as an exception and those added without an exception? Those are new terms to me.


— Mark in Idaho (formerly from Redwood Falls, Minnesota)

Practice squads increased in 2020 and 2021 to 12 players to help teams with potential absences caused by COVID-19. The squads increased again last year to 16 and remain at that size for 2023.

The NFL has also created more flexibility regarding who is eligible to be on practice squads along the following categories:

(I) Players who have not accrued a season

(II) Free agent players who were on the active list for fewer than nine regular season games in their only accrued season

(III) A maximum of 10 free agent players per club who have earned no more than two accrued seasons

(IV) A maximum of six free agents with no limitations on their number of accrued seasons

The total number of players in categories III and IV may not exceed 10.

The "exception" relates to category IV.

The thinking in creating exceptions for some veteran players was it enables teams to more quickly fill spots if a veteran is already in the building.

View photos of the Vikings 2022 schedule at U.S. Bank Stadium and on the road.

With [Kellen] Mond, [Chazz] Surratt, [Wyatt Davis] and [Janarius] Robinson getting released, is the 2021 draft the worst in team history? How far does that set back an organization?

— John Heil

John's email came through before receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette also was waived and claimed by the Bears, but even when adding him to the list, the simple answer is no.

Comparing drafts over time can be a bit daunting because each year's draft has different strengths and weaknesses, team needs, number of selections and draft order may differ from year to year, as well.

While it generally takes three or so years to evaluate a draft, you have to remember last year's draft yielded Christian Darrisaw, a starting left tackle the Vikings are high on for years to come who has drawn credit and received helpful tips from Trent Williams. Starting left tackles are not always easy to come by.

It is uncommon for a team to make four picks in a third round. It's even rarer for three of four third-round picks to be released after one year, but the regime and Minnesota's offensive and defensive schemes have changed since the selections of Mond, Surratt, Davis and Pat Jones II. The Vikings thought there was great value in that part of the draft, but hindsight, which is undefeated, shows it may have been better to try to package a couple of those third-round picks to move into the second round last year. The jury is still out — and will be — on Jones, who figures to be a rotational player on defense to spell Pro Bowl edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith on the edge. Jones also could contribute on special teams.

Bynum showed some great flashes when pressed into duty and enters his second pro season as one of Minnesota's starting safeties along with Harrison Smith. That's encouraging for a fourth-rounder who converted from playing corner in college.

Calling Kene Nwangwu a bona fide kickoff returner is almost an understatement. People, including me, are intrigued by how the new staff might work him more into the offense.

I'm also pleased that Robinson and 2021 sixth-round pick Jaylen Twyman will have an opportunity to continue to develop on Minnesota's practice squad. Both missed all of their rookie seasons because of injuries.

The other player who was part of the 11-player class was Zach Davidson. He had a rough game against San Francisco but bounced back at Denver. Ultimately, the Central Missouri product, was waived. He signed with the Bills practice squad.

Darrisaw could potentially be the biggest prize of the class, and he ideally should be, given he was selected 23rd overall.

Back in 1969, Ed White was the only player out of 16 selected who made the roster that year, and he didn't become a full-season starter until 1971. Eleven players drafted that year never played a single snap in an NFL game. But, that Vikings team was loaded, and Bud Grant preferred veterans over rookies.

More recently, the 2016 draft hasn't aged very well. Laquon Treadwell was selected 23rd overall at a time when the Vikings might have underestimated what they already had with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

Mackensie Alexander eventually grew into the nickel role, and Jayron Kearse earned his time as a seventh-rounder. Stephen Weatherly also helped that class, along with tight end David Morgan. Kentrell Brothers was solid on special teams, but fourth-rounder Willie Beavers and sixth-rounder Moritz Boehringer never panned out.

John here from the U.K., a lifelong Vikings fan for 35 years, looking forward to seeing the team live for the first time in Tottenham in October.

I was sad to see Armon Watts and Ihmir Smith-Marsette signing with the Bears, and am living in hope that Blacklock and Reagor are upgrades. Time will tell! I was more concerned about the number of players waived by Minnesota who have ended up signing up to the practice squads on other teams. Is there some underlying disquiet or lack of loyalty in the dressing room, that we're not seeing, or was it just more personal for [Sean] Mannion, Surratt and Zach Davidson? Mannion in particular is a bit of a blow, given how much Cousins values his thinking in the QB room — who will replace him in that role as QB3?


John Bell

This one came through before the Vikings announced the signing of David Blough to the practice squad as the team's third quarterback. Blough previously spent time with Detroit from 2019-21 after initially joining Cleveland as an undrafted rookie in 2019.

The Vikings waived Watts and Smith-Marsette in separate moves, and the Bears wound up claiming both. I don't think it's merely gamesmanship on the part of Chicago to try to find out as much as possible on a division foe.

People who have a lot more expertise in player evaluation and working within the constraints of the salary cap viewed both moves as helping make the Vikings better, potentially in 2022 and beyond.

Without being privy to each conversation, O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah seem to be extenders of empathy during difficult conversations.

Mannion already spent time with Seattle and is from the West Coast, so other factors could come into play if considering similar opportunities across the NFL.

It seems like Armon Watts was a victim of the salary cap. He could have been a starter. Da Bears snagged him. That darn salary cap.

— Gerald Goblirsch

Watts had been working with the first team a considerable amount this offseason, so it was a bit of a surprise. We don't get too much into contracts here, but Watts was entering the final season of his rookie deal at a time the team is overhauling its base defense.

We had also seen offseason acquisition Jonathan Bullard in there from time to time along with Harrison Phillips and Dalvin Tomlinson when the Vikings lined up with three down offensive linemen.

The team figures to be in the nickel defense a considerable amount, so that likely means nickelback Chandon Sullivan — keep an eye out for Lindsey Young's feature on him this week on and in the Playbook if you're going to the Border Battle — will be on the field a lot more than a third interior defensive lineman.

In a sequence of the moves that included waiving Watts, the Vikings acquired Ross Blacklock from the Texans. Houston had drafted him when Minnesota defensive line coach Chris Rumph held the same position in 2020.

An updated but still "unofficial" depth chart will be released this week, so we'll see who is listed alongside Phillips and Tomlinson.

As a lifelong Vikings fan, rarely do I get excited about a potential breakout season. I think Cameron Dantzler is primed. Being forced to start his rookie season was tough. Having this offseason to work with Patrick Peterson can only have helped him. Historically, Dewayne Washington, Brian Williams, Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes all became solid players at this point in their careers. Your thoughts?

P.S. I feel bad for Bisi — wishing him a speedy recovery.

Troy B. in Springfield, Illinois

It was so tough to see Bisi Johnson suffer a torn ACL while covering a punt in the third quarter at Denver. It creates an uphill climb for a young man who had suffered the same injury and summited the last mountain to return from injury and post a solid offseason that included playing in his hometown against the Broncos. Johnson's versatility and the trust he earned from Kirk Cousins back in 2019 as a rookie could be missed again this year — O'Connell said he deserved a spot on the 53. We all hope none but the best for him and all know he's capable of the challenge ahead.

Dantzler is a potential X-factor toward Minnesota yielding better results on defense than the Vikings have in his first two seasons. Peterson is back for a second season in Purple, and the eight-time Pro Bowler has been investing his time and tips into the third-year pro. Dantzler is atop the depth chart with Peterson at the start of the season, and he received starter treatment from O'Connell and company in preseason games.

Former Head Coach Mike Zimmer had risen through the coaching ranks by coaching defensive backs before becoming a defensive coordinator. The same is true for current Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell.

People frequently cite Donatell's ability to instruct as one of his best qualities. I think that likely reverberates through Minnesota's defensive coaches.

Corner has to be one of the tougher positions to adjust to from college because rules favor receivers more in the NFL than in the college game. Dantzler taking a step forward this season could yield big benefits for the Vikings.

Surprised and shocked they rid themselves of Mond. If they really did want a better QB at the No. 2 position, why not draft Kenny Pickett? He would've been the future of the franchise. That being said, they kept all the backs but cut Davidson at TE. At his size and skill set, I thought he'd be a perfect fit for the Vikes high-flying offense but what do I know? Bring on the Pack.*


— Nicholas Balkou

The Vikings knew they were set at the starting QB position with Kirk Cousins and wanted to address other priorities early in this year's draft.

There's potential for several of Minnesota's 2022 picks (nine of the 10 made the 53, and Nick Muse is on the practice squad) to impact the team this year more than Pickett or any other quarterback.

I was not surprised to see Mond waived after Minnesota traded for Nick Mullens. I also was not surprised when he didn't clear waivers (Cleveland claimed him).

The Vikings seem to be content to go without a development QB for this year. I am fine with that.

What do they have in the bank to pick up a [C.J.] Stroud [out of Ohio State] or a [Will] Levis [out of Kentucky] in next year's draft, or do you think they'll try to lure in Tom Brady?

— Wolfie

For starters, I'm excited to let this year play out. Cousins is the cover story of the Playbook this week. The story, which will also be posted on Thursday, details Cousins' reunion with O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips. Both were instrumental in the quarterback's 2017 season that made him the top prize during 2018 free agency.

Let's see how Cousins does here in the O'Connell-Phillips 2022 iteration for the Vikings that includes some great receiving options and a running game that is led by Dalvin Cook.

I think, from listening to Cousins and quarterbacks over the years, that players at the position are always developing something. He has things that he's continuing to work on. The same will be true for Mullens, whom the Vikings acquired in a trade with the Raiders last month.

I'd classify — and this is no slight — Mullens in the developmental stage of his career. He's still just 27 years old but happens to have more regular-season experience than Mannion and Mond combined.

The Vikings staff emphasizes continued teaching and learning, and I think Cousins and Mullens have some great opportunities ahead of them. Same now for Blough from the Vikings practice squad.

As for Stroud, Levins or college QB X, Y or Z, maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I'd like to see how their seasons play out before assigning a projected value.

While I understand everyone's admiration for the success Tom Brady has experienced, he's 45 entering this season — his 23rd in the NFL — and retired briefly in the offseason. Yeah, I know he led the league in completions, attempts, yards and passing touchdowns in 2021 at 43, but let's see how this year plays out for him as well.