A year ago, the Vikings began what General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah termed a “competitive rebuild,” keeping most of their veteran nucleus together under the belief they could return to the playoffs with a new coaching staff.
That belief came true in coach Kevin O’Connell’s first year: The Vikings won at least 13 games for just the third time in franchise history, claiming their first NFC North title in five years with a 13-4 record and winning an NFL-record 11 games by one score.
With many of those core players a year older and a season further into high-priced contracts, though, the Vikings will have plenty of decisions to make before next season. They need to clear roughly $23 million of cap space before the league year begins on March 15, meaning they are headed toward a series of tough choices with some of their longest-tenured players. They will also consider what could be a record-breaking contract extension for Justin Jefferson, and what their future with Kirk Cousins will look like.
Here is a look at the major decisions the Vikings will have to make before March 15:
CORNERBACK, AGE: 32
2023 CAP HIT: $3.58 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: Whether or not to bring Peterson back will hinge on two factors: whether the Vikings believe he can still be a productive corner this fall at age 33, and whether they think they have enough depth to replace him. It would be difficult for them to say yes to the second question, with Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans having missed so much time because of injury. Peterson, who played 95.2% of the Vikings' snaps in 2022, remains in good shape after 12 years at the position. If defensive coordinator Ed Donatell's replacement keeps the Vikings in the scheme that served Peterson well in 2022, his reliability and leadership could bring him back on another affordable deal.
DEFENSIVE LINE, AGE: 28
2023 CAP HIT: $7.5 million (with $2.5 million voids for 2023, 2024 and 2025)
VIKINGS' DECISION: Even if Tomlinson leaves in free agency, he will count $7.5 million against the Vikings' 2023 cap as his void years hit the books. The team, then, will have to decide whether it's worth giving Tomlinson a competitive multiyear deal that still fits on their cap, given the fact the annual $2.5 million charges would remain as part of a new deal. Though he missed four games because of a calf injury, Tomlinson was productive when he was healthy, and he could return as a starter on a mid-level deal.
CENTER, AGE: 27
2023 CAP HIT: $4.1 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: Bradbury improved in his first year under offensive line coach Chris Kuper, but his tough day against Dexter Lawrence in the playoff loss to the Giants followed a familiar theme, as Bradbury struggled to hold his ground in pass protection against a big defensive tackle. The Vikings could try to bring him back on an affordable deal, though there could be a team that sees the former first-round pick being worth a bigger payday than the Vikings could offer.
CORNERBACK, AGE: 26
2023 CAP HIT: $1.75 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: The Vikings will have to add cornerback depth before the start of the season, but Sullivan allowed a 107.8 passer rating when quarterbacks targeted him in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus. The Vikings might be inclined to look for alternatives at the slot cornerback position.
RUNNING BACK, AGE: 24
2023 CAP HIT: $1.8 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: They could be tempted to bring Mattison back on a new deal, particularly if they are looking for an affordable alternative to Dalvin Cook. Mattison, though, might be looking for a team that will give him a larger role in the offense after carrying just 404 times in four seasons, so his return to Minnesota might depend on what kind of a fit he would have in the offense.
CORNERBACK, AGE: 26
2023 CAP HIT: $482,500
VIKINGS' DECISION: Shelley was one of the pleasant surprises of 2022, breaking up 11 passes in just 281 coverage snaps. His 5-foot-9 height could turn some teams away from him on the open market, so if the Vikings have a chance to bring him back on an affordable deal, he could bring some nice value in 2023.
KICKER, AGE: 28
2023 CAP HIT: $2.43 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: As encouraged as the Vikings were by Joseph at the beginning of the season, the kicker's accuracy issues (78.8 field goal-percentage, 87.0 extra-point percentage) could lead them to look elsewhere. It's also possible they will bring Joseph back on a one-year deal again, and think about bringing in competition for him in training camp.
LONG SNAPPER, AGE: 35
2023 CAP HIT: $1.04 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: DePaola was a big success story for the Vikings in 2022, becoming a first-team All-Pro and earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Even though he has some leverage heading into free agency, teams tend not to let reliable long snappers leave, so the Vikings will likely make a push to keep him.
WIDE RECEIVER, AGE: 32
2023 CAP HIT: $19.97 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: The team must decide whether the $6.42 million of cap savings they would get by releasing Thielen is worth the $13.55 million of dead money they would absorb. They could save $13.41 million with a post-June 1 release, though they wouldn't be able to use the cap space during free agency and would still have dead money from Thielen on their books through 2024. This one is worth watching, particularly in light of rumblings the receiver wants to play in an offense that grants him a bigger role.
LINEBACKER, AGE: 30
2023 CAP HIT: $11.43 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: The former first-team All-Pro saw a drop in production in 2022, which might have been a result of him running the team's defensive huddle for the first time as he learned a new defense after spending his entire career in Mike Zimmer's scheme. The Vikings would recoup $9.5 million of cap space by releasing Kendricks, which is why a restructured contract might be the vehicle through which he stays.
EDGE RUSHER, AGE: 30
2023 CAP HIT: $15.49 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: They would save more than $12 million of cap space by releasing Smith, who had just a half-sack after Nov. 13. The edge rusher recently deleted all mentions of the Vikings from his social media accounts, one of several indications he might be preparing for a split from the team. The Vikings will have to make a decision on Smith's future by March 19, when $5.05 million of his 2023 base salary would be guaranteed.
SAFETY, AGE: 33
2023 CAP HIT: $19.04 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: The team's longest-tenured player will be 34 in February, but if the Vikings were going to release the six-time Pro Bowl player, they would have to deal with the dead money question. They would incur $11.75 million of it with a pre-June 1 cut, and moving on from Smith (who had five interceptions this season) could be harder if they are not sure about Lewis Cine's health or the fitness of Josh Metellus and Camryn Bynum to replace Smith. The Vikings' decision will likely come early in the offseason; they would guarantee $1.25 million of Smith's base salary by March 20.
RUNNING BACK, AGE: 27
2023 CAP HIT: $14.1 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: Cook will be 28 before the start of the season, and he has carried 1,282 times in his six years with the Vikings. He is scheduled to have the sixth-highest cap number of any NFL running back in 2023, and he would have $2 million of his base salary guaranteed on March 20. His 15.5 rushing attempts per game were the second-fewest of his career; the Vikings would have to decide if they want to recoup $7.89 million of cap space by cutting Cook before June 1, or keep him for another year to avoid $6.2 million of dead money costs.
FULLBACK, AGE: 29
2023 CAP HIT: $3.8 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: Though they found a role for Ham in their 2022 offense and made him a captain to recognize his contributions on special teams, the Vikings will have to decide if it's worth keeping a fullback at Ham's price instead of claiming the $3.05 million of cap space they would get back by cutting him. If the Vikings want to keep Ham for the final year of his contract, a salary reduction in exchange for guaranteed money might be a good solution.
LINEBACKER, AGE: 30
2023 CAP HIT: $6.5 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: Hicks got picked on in coverage during the season, though that might have been because of how the Vikings' scheme was set up and could change with a new defensive coordinator. The Vikings would get $5 million of cap savings, against $1.5 million of dead money, by releasing Hicks; as with Kendricks, they will have to decide how much they want to invest in linebackers over 30 whose primary job isn't rushing the passer.
QUARTERBACK, AGE: 34
2023 CAP HIT: $36.25 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: Cousins' future is seemingly an annual question in Minnesota, and this offseason will be no different, with the quarterback set to hit free agency after 2023. The Vikings could let him play out the final year of his contract, but they would likely need a succession plan, and perhaps one that's palatable to Justin Jefferson before he signs a massive contract extension. Cousins would have a voice in any effort to trade him this offseason, since he has a no-trade clause in his current deal. Keeping him on the final year of his deal means they would risk paying him more as he approaches free agency in 2024; another contract extension would be based on the belief Cousins (who turns 35 in August) will retain his impressive durability into his late 30s and continue to improve in Kevin O'Connell's offense. This decision, as much as any other, will shape the next several years of O'Connell's and Adofo-Mensah's tenures, and it will reveal plenty about the direction the Vikings plan to take.
EDGE RUSHER, AGE: 28
2023 CAP HIT: $13.12 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: The team has a fascinating choice to make with Hunter, who will be 29 at the end of October and posted 10½ sacks while playing in a more eclectic role than he'd had in the past. He will be a free agent after 2023, with two void years left on his deal; an extension could make sense, though it's unknown how interested Hunter would be in staying in Minnesota. The Vikings explored trade options for him last year before guaranteeing his $18 million roster bonus. If they were to deal him this year, it would only make sense for them to do so after June 1, when they could split $13.1 million of dead money over two years.
WIDE RECEIVER, AGE: 23
2023 CAP HIT: $4.18 million
VIKINGS' DECISION: There's little doubt the Vikings will try to get a deal done with Jefferson, who could command more than $30 million a year after breaking numerous NFL records in the first three years of his career and making himself a contender for NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors. The Vikings' task will be determining how to structure the deal; the fact Jefferson doesn't turn 24 until June might mean they can backload the contract more than they normally would, knowing how many productive years he has left. Such a structure would also help their cap problems now, while banking on the cap spikes that are likely coming as a result of the NFL's new TV deals. But the cash flow also has to be acceptable to Jefferson, who benefits from more money up front. A Jefferson deal seems more of a "when" than an "if"; how the contract gets done might be the most fascinating component of it.