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Five key decisions the Vikings’ brain trust will face as final cuts approach on Tuesday

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs
Aug 27, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jake Browning (3) drops back for a handoff against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second quarter at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer are likely to be in their offices at TCO Performance Center early Saturday to begin discussions about which 53 players should be kept on the roster as the final cutdown approaches at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

This comes after the Vikings closed the preseason Friday with a 28-25 loss at Kansas City, leaving the Vikings winless in three exhibition games and causing some anxiousness from a fan base with big expectations. Ownership also has high hopes, putting plenty of pressure on Spielman and Zimmer and leaving little room for error when it comes to personnel moves.

Here are five of the most important decisions the Vikings’ brain trust will face this weekend.

BACKUP QB

Jake Browning was a great story when he was the only quarterback who didn’t have to enter quarantine early in training camp, but the two-year member of the Vikings’ practice squad spent three games proving he has no business being on an NFL roster.

Browning was 2-of-8 for 41 yards against the Chiefs as he was given another chance to prove that he could handle the backup role to Kirk Cousins. Third-round rookie Kellen Mond, as he has done during the preseason, saw extensive second-half action and completed 16-of-23 passes for 196 yards with an interception and also scrambled for 40 yards on five carries.

Mond, however, is nowhere near being ready to play in a regular-season game and will make the final roster as the third quarterback. This means the Vikings need to find a backup for Cousins, who hasn’t missed a game because of injury since taking over as the starter in Washington in 2015. Cousins isn’t vaccinated and the NFL appears eager to be able to put non-vaccinated players in quarantine.

Taking a chance that Cousins will be able to play in all 17 games would be foolish and having to play Mond could do damage to his development. The Vikings need to be working the phones to try to obtain a veteran backup, or at least looking at the waiver wire on Tuesday.

One thought is the Vikings could make a call to the Broncos to check on Drew Lock, who lost the starting job to Teddy Bridgewater. George Paton, the Broncos’ general manager, was Spielman’s long-time assistant before leaving for Denver during the offseason.

BACKUP LINEBACKER

The Vikings plan is to have Eric Kendricks start in between Anthony Barr and newcomer Nick Vigil, but Barr hasn’t practiced since Aug. 5 because of an undisclosed injury and it’s looking more and more likely he won’t be ready to play in the opener.

The problem is the Vikings don’t have great depth behind the starting three. The list of backups includes Ryan Connelly, Troy Dye and Blake Lynch and rookies Tuf Borland and Chazz Surratt.

If there is a concern about Barr missing significant time, Spielman might look to make a trade for a linebacker. If Barr is going to miss limited time, Spielman almost certainly will be looking to the waiver wire for help.

LEFT TACKLE

The Vikings’ offensive line is set at center (Garrett Bradbury), both guard spots (Ezra Cleveland and Oli Udoh) and right tackle (Brian O’Neill), but the all-important left tackle position remains an area where the team might have to hold its breath.

First-round pick Christian Darrisaw did not participate in one training camp practice or preseason game because of a core-muscle injury that required a second procedure on his groin. The Vikings drafted Darrisaw with the plan that he could start at left tackle, but that job will belong to backup Rashod Hill to start the season and maybe well beyond that point.

That’s a lot to ask of a career backup who is a valuable member of the roster but not a starting left tackle. Much like with Barr, the Vikings’ decision on the left tackle spot is likely to be determined by how long they think Darrisaw will be out.

Left tackles are difficult to find but 32-year-old Russell Okung remains a free agent and could provide stability until Darrisaw is ready.

KICKER

Greg Joseph hasn’t attempted an extra-point in a regular-season since 2019 and hasn’t attempted a field goal since 2018, and yet the Vikings basically gave him the kicking job during the offseason when they signed him in February.

Considering Zimmer’s relationship with kickers, it was an interesting move to just give Joseph the job without providing real competition. Joseph made a 26-yard kick in the first quarter Friday, but also missed wide right from 52 yards. He finished the exhibition season 4-of-6 after also missing wide right from 51 yards last week against Indianapolis.

Joseph almost certainly will open the season as the Vikings’ kicker, but just because you start the season kicking for Zimmer doesn’t mean you will end the season in that role.

POTENTIAL SURPRISE CUTS

Cornerback Cameron Dantzler, a third-round pick by the Vikings in 2020, played in 11 games and made 10 starts as a rookie. But Dantzler lost the starting job during the offseason when the Vikings signed free agent Bashaud Breeland and he proceeded to have a poor training camp. Dantzler was a bit better against the Chiefs on Friday night — he had four tackles, broke up a pass and recovered a fumble — but the Vikings weren’t happy with his technique on defense or special teams play.

So could he be cut? If 2020 first-round corner Jeff Gladney hadn’t already been released this month after being indicted by a Dallas grand jury on two felony domestic assault charges, maybe the Vikings would move on from Dantzler. But odds are good he sticks on the 53-man roster and is told significant improvement is expected.

Defensive end Stephen Weatherly might not be as fortunate. Weatherly returned to the Vikings this offseason after a disappointing and injury-plagued year in Carolina and was given the opportunity to win the starting job at right defensive end.

However, it appears D.J. Wonnum has won the starting job and the recently signed Everson Griffen is going to be a third-down pass-rushing specialist from the right end. Danielle Hunter also is going to switch ends at times and the Vikings do have some rotational depth.

So will there be room for Weatherly? That’s not a given.