La Velle E. Neal III
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La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

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The Vikings have a mess on their hands.

They enter an offseason in which they would like to lock up Justin Jefferson but are $24 million over the salary cap, according to, and need to upgrade a few positions. Putting together a team capable of another 13-win season seems more than challenging.

To achieve all of this — and be cap compliant before the new year starts on March 15 — some longtime Vikings might be on the way out. General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has to break out the knife and start cutting.

If I were Kwesi, these are the key moves I would make to gain financial flexibility and make room for a massive Jefferson contract.

Cut Dalvin Cook. He is headed to that danger zone for running backs, the late 20s, when many begin to decline. Cook, 27, averaged a career low 4.4 yards a carry and just 69 yards a game. Cutting Cook would save the Vikings nearly $7.9 million.

Cut Jordan Hicks. The 30-year-old linebacker collected 129 tackles. But the Vikings have a young linebacker with promise in Brian Asamoah. Cutting Hicks would save $5 million.

Don't re-sign Chandon Sullivan. The cornerback is a free agent who should be set free. This isn't about saving money; it is about saving the defense. Opposing quarterbacks had a 102.7 rating against Sullivan in pass coverage, and he was ranked 96th among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus.

Cut Za'Darius Smith. He had 9½ sacks through 10 games then half a sack the rest of the way. Still effective, but the Vikes need the money. They would save $13.3 million with just $3.3 million of dead money.

Cut Adam Thielen. Thielen, 32, has the second largest cap hit on the club at just under $20 million, and his contract is fully guaranteed if he's on the roster on the third day of the league year. The Vikings would save $6.4 million by cutting him but would have to eat a $13.5 million in dead money. It would be a tough end for the Minnesota native, but it's a business.

Renegotiate with Harrison Smith. Like Thielen, Smith had his contract restructured last year and they might have to kick the can down the road again. The Vikings would save $7.3 million by cutting him but also eat $11 million in dead money. You can't stack too much dead money. Smith is 33 but can still contribute.

Renegotiate with Kirk Cousins. He has a $36 million cap number next season. Plenty of money to move around.

Aside from the negotiations, the cuts save the Vikings around $20 million. This is a glimpse of what Adofo-Mensah is facing this offseason. We are about to see what a competitive rebuild really looks like.

A Radke replica?

Before a game in May, Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black told reporters, "he arguably has the best changeup in the game."

He was referring to new Twins pitcher Pablo Lopez.

The changeup is Lopez's calling card, and he throws it more than 35% of the time. His fastball averaged 93.6 miles per hour last season. He also throws a cut fastball and a curveball. As he has progressed, he's backed off the curveball and increased usage of his changeup.

I'm wondering if the Twins just traded for Brad Radke. Both are righthanded, had a fastball around 93 mph (Radke did the first couple seasons I covered him) and were known for their changeups.

Radke had better control and had a much lower strikeout rate than Lopez. But Lopez seems to go about his business the same way as Radke did. It will be interesting to watch Lopez pitch for the Twins.

A lot of work to do

Reality should set in for the Gophers men's basketball team following blowout losses at home to Illinois and Purdue last week.

Those defeats reflect just how big of a rebuilding job Ben Johnson has on his hands. Dawson Garcia is a fine player but has to learn how to be a consistent threat. Jamison Battle has talent but needs to regain his scoring touch from a year ago. Ta'Lon Cooper is a nice playmaker but might be the worst free-throw shooting point guard I have ever seen. Pharrel Payne has good size and is a great athlete, but his offensive game is limited to right around the rim. He needs time to develop.

Many Gophers players need time to become more well-rounded and understand what it takes to win games. But that is tough to do in the unforgiving Big Ten. The team is short on talent and lacks experience, a bad combination.


Dumba stays: Matt Dumba will remain with the Wild through the trade deadline because the market won't develop for him and Bill Guerin won't swing a trade unless it makes the team better.

Sunday's NFL winners: Buffalo's defense will take advantage of Cincinnati's beat-up offensive line and send the Bills to the AFC Championship Game. In the NFC, Christian McCaffrey will lead San Francisco over Dallas and into the title game.