The Vikings will be faced with an interesting decision this offseason when it comes to the future of safety Harrison Smith. Smith, who is certain to go into the Vikings’ Ring of Honor one day, has missed the past two games while on the COVID-19 reserve list and his replacement, rookie Camryn Bynum, has recorded an interception and a sack in a loss to Baltimore and a win over the Chargers, respectively.
Smith, who has no interceptions and one sack in seven games, agreed to a four-year, $64 million contract extension before the season but it wouldn’t be difficult for the Vikings to get out of the deal after this year. Smith, 32, has no guaranteed money remaining and releasing him with a post-June 1 designation would mean only a $1.816 million salary-cap hit for the Vikings in 2022. The savings would be $11.55 million.
Smith’s salary-cap hit for 2022, if he’s on the roster, will be $13.466 million.
Veteran safety Xavier Woods signed a one-year contract with a $1 million base salary last offseason, but he could be retained at a reasonable figure. That means a safety combination of Woods and Bynum would cost the Vikings far less and seems like a strong possibility, especially if Mike Zimmer is no longer coaching the team.
Bynum was drafted by the Vikings in the fourth round last April out of Cal and moved to safety after playing cornerback in college. His play against the Ravens and Chargers should get him on the field more, even when Smith returns. One possibility could be a “Big Nickel” look that includes Bynum, Smith and Woods all on the field.
- There are rumblings that Vikings quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko had a hand in the team’s far-more-aggressive offensive approach during Sunday’s 27-20 victory over the Chargers. That makes a ton of sense considering how different the offense looked compared to the first eight games with offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak calling the plays.
- The Vikings have almost no choice but to have Mason Cole continue as their starting center over 2019 first-round pick Garrett Bradbury, who has missed the past two games while on the COVID list and should be returning soon. Cole, acquired from Arizona during the offseason, has provided stability at the center position that Bradbury hasn’t been able to bring. Pro Football Focus gives Cole a 68.2 grade, compared to 56.2 for Bradbury. The Vikings will have to decide this spring whether they are going to pick up the fifth-year option on Bradbury’s contract for 2023.
- Representatives for Byron Buxton and Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine continue contract negotiations for the talented but often-injured center fielder, according to SKOR North insider Darren (Doogie) Wolfson. The most-recent talks took place at the General Managers’ meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. Doogie also said that trade talks involving Buxton have taken place and there is a chance he will be moved, if a deal can’t be worked out. The Twins made a seven-year, $80 million offer to Buxton last summer, but he likely wants north of $100 million. Buxton will be a free agent after the 2022 season. Complicating matters is that MLB’s Collective Bargaining agreement expires Dec. 1 and a deal that would prevent a work stoppage doesn’t appear close.
- Jose Berrios is staying in Toronto long term. The Twins traded the pitcher to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline last season after it looked like he would leave Minnesota when he became a free agent following the 2022 season. Berrios, who went 5-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 12 starts with the Blue Jays, reportedly agreed to a seven-year, $131 million contract extension on Tuesday. The 27-year-old Berrios has proven to be one of the most durable starting pitchers in the game.
- Former Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino’s New Mexico team is 2-1 with wins over Florida Atlantic and Grambling sandwiched between a loss at Colorado. Jamal Mashburn Jr., who played last season for Pitino in Minnesota, led the Lobos with 18 points in an 86-61 victory over Grambling on Monday night. Mashburn is second on the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points per game.
- Guard Marcus Carr, who also left Minnesota after last season and transferred to Texas, is second on the Longhorns with an average of 10.5 points in two games and leads the team with 10 assists.
- Former Wild winger Andrew Brunette is 3-2-3 since taking over as interim head coach of the Florida Panthers after Joel Quenneville resigned on Oct. 28 following the release of an investigation into how the Blackhawks handled claims by Kyle Beach that former video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted him in 2010. Quenneville was coaching Chicago at that time. Florida started the season 7-0-0 but has lost four in a row. The Panthers remained in first place by two points over Toronto entering Tuesday’s games. Brunette, who also was in the Wild’s front office at one point, was hired as an assistant in Florida in June 2019.
- Former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, whose playing career appears to be finished, was back home at Target Center on Tuesday sitting courtside by Timberwolves owner-in-waiting Marc Lore at the Wolves-Suns game. Fitzgerald has a minority stake in the Suns.
- A Minnesota Hockey Authority said a couple weeks back that Ryan Hartman was his early-season MVP for the Wild. My quick response was that it was Marcus Foligno. Well, given Hartman’s play since then let’s just say the Hockey Authority was right. Hartman led the Wild with seven goals and was tied for the team lead with 11 points in 14 games entering Tuesday night’s game against San Jose. Foligno had five goals and 10 points in 14 games. Hartman also is a bargain after he signed a three-year, $5.1 million deal with the Wild last spring.
- Can someone explain to me how Karl-Anthony Towns, on his 26th birthday and a night when he scored a game-high 35 points, doesn’t get the shot, or even touch the ball, on the Wolves’ last meaningful trip down the floor in a 99-96 loss the Phoenix Suns on Monday night at Target Center? The Wolves trailed by two when D’Angelo Russell attempted a 26-foot, three-pointer with 5.6 seconds left and Anthony Edwards mishandled the ball after getting the rebound. Seems like you should have wanted the ball in KAT’s hands at that point.