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Vikings three-and-out: Gamble with Riley Reiff pays off with big savings and a better roster

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Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Riley Reiff gets set during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Vikings played a potentially dangerous game of chicken with left tackle Riley Reiff this week after acquiring defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The team had $12.5 million in salary-cap space before the trade and had to restructure the one-year, $17.8 million contract Ngakoue had been given by Jacksonville when he received the franchise tag.
Ngakoue agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal, but the Vikings wanted more wiggle room under the cap and thus went to Reiff with an ultimatum: Take a pay cut or be released.
The danger in this approach was what if Reiff said no, or his agent worked out a trade that would have moved his client to a new team and kept his 2020 pay day of $10.9 million intact? Reiff reportedly spent Monday saying goodbye to teammates — believing he was leaving or trying to scare the Vikings — but then turned around and accepted the salary reduction. He will make a base salary of $5.9 million this season.
Reiff’s departure would have forced the Vikings to shuffle their offensive line two weeks before the season opener, moving Brian O’Neill from right to left tackle and bringing in backup Rashod Hill as the starter at right tackle. Not exactly ideal for a team that far too often has considered the offensive line to be an afterthought.
But one could also argue the Vikings gave this move a lot of thought and knew they had Reiff right where they wanted him. Having to shuffle the offensive line two weeks before the season would have been less than ideal for the Vikings, but how many teams were looking to acquire a good (but far from great) 31-year-old left tackle with a significant price tag at this point? Not many.
The Vikings’ gamble paid off and because of it they are better team heading into the season.
Washington’s decision to release Adrian Peterson on Friday brought a question that will be asked by some Vikings fans until the running back decides to put away his shoulder pads for good. “What are the chances of Peterson returning to Minnesota?”
Peterson spent 10 mostly fantastic seasons in Minnesota, but there were some rocky moments toward the end. By the time he was let go his skill set no longer fit what most teams are looking for in a running back. The issue is that Peterson believes he can play this game forever, no matter how delusional that might be. While it’s likely he will catch on somewhere in the coming days, the next time he will sign a contract with the Vikings it will be a one-year deal so he can retire with the team.
That’s assuming everything is fine between the Vikings and Peterson after his departure following the 2016 season. The 35-year-old Peterson provided some incredible moments during his time in Purple and is almost certainly headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But the fact he will be playing for his fourth team in four seasons, and appears intent on leaving the game as a broken down running back, isn’t surprising.
Sticking around is more important to Peterson than preserving memories of his greatness. Peterson will enter this season fifth all-time in the NFL in rushing yards (at 14,216) and he won’t stop his pursuit of Emmitt Smith’s all-time record of 18,355 until he’s told no team will sign him.
It will be at that point, that Peterson likely will get the chance to retire as a Viking. He will be a lock for the team’s Ring of Honor, but it will be interesting to see if consideration is given to retiring his number. Remember, Randy Moss’ No. 84 never has been retired.
With Ngakoue on the right side and Danielle Hunter on the left side, the Vikings should have one of the top defensive ends duos in the NFL. Hunter has had back-to-back 14.5 sack seasons and Ngakoue has 17.5 sacks over the past two seasons and 37.5 since he was selected in the third round of the 2016 draft out of Maryland.
“I know that he’s a guy that’s put up double-digit sacks two years,” Ngakoue said of Hunter during a Zoom call with the Twin Cities media on Friday. “You can definitely learn from a guy like that. I did it one season, and I want to continue that trend of being able to get back to that elite status. Just having him push me and I push him and we can teach each other different things. I feel like we’ll complement each other really good and well.
“We want to become the best of the best. We want to be elite. When they talk about edge rushers, we want them to talk about Danielle and Yannick. I’m just glad, like I said, that we’re on the same team and can push each other each and every day. I’m pretty sure our friendship will build as time goes on.”
Ngakoue had a career-high 12 sacks in his second NFL season and, according to ESPN Stats & Information, he is one of seven NFL players to have eight or more sacks in each of his first four seasons since stats became an official stat in 1982.