As the Vikings express optimism that this year’s draft class will provide plenty of help, general manager Rick Spielman will be faced with admitting that things haven’t panned out as hoped with 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes.
It’s unlikely the Vikings will exercise the $12.643 million fifth-year option on the cornerback’s contract for the 2022 season, meaning Hughes will be a free agent after this year. The deadline for teams to make that decision is Monday.
Hughes’ issue hasn’t been his play, but rather his availability.
He has appeared in 24 of a potential 48 regular-season games since being taken 30th overall, two picks before Baltimore selected quarterback Lamar Jackson. Hughes’ rookie season, in which he returned an interception for a touchdown in a season-opening victory over San Francisco, ended in Week 6 against Arizona when he suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament.
Hughes returned in Week 3 of the 2020 season and played in 14 games (three starts), but suffered a broken vertebra in his neck late in the regular season and missed the playoffs. Hughes only played in four games (two starts) last season before neck issues again brought his season to an end.
Hughes, who has averaged 7.3 yards on 16 career punt returns and 26.8 yards on four kickoff returns, has 80 tackles, two interceptions, 13 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in his three seasons.
Hughes likely will get every chance to prove himself this season, but that doesn’t mean the Vikings want to pick up his option. One reason for this, as pointed out by Pro Football Talk, is that there was a significant change in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was put into place last year.
The CBA now calls for the fifth-year options to be fully guaranteed when exercised. Previously, they had only been guaranteed against injury.
The Vikings are looking to add more cornerback depth after not addressing the position in the draft. It’s likely they will open the season with veteran Patrick Peterson, signed as a free agent, and Cameron Dantzler starting as the outside corners and Mackensie Alexander, who returned in free agency, playing in the nickel. Jeff Gladney, the Vikings’ second pick in the first round in 2020, was charged with assault in April and it’s not clear how that situation will play out both with the NFL and the legal system.
The Vikings also have cornerbacks Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand and Dylan Mabin on the roster.