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Zulgad’s Roundup: Vikings’ new brass will have some tough decisions to make on veterans

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Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen warms up before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

The Vikings’ search for a general manager could end as early as next week and it’s likely a coach will be named shortly thereafter. One of the first things the new hires will have to do is make roster decisions with an eye on getting the team under the salary cap.

The cap will increase to $208.2 million next season, but the Vikings are still $11.076 million over that total, according to the Over The Cap website. That puts them ahead of only three teams — the Cowboys ($13.592 million), Packers ($42.371) and Saints ($64.357).

Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings’ longtime executive vice president of football operations, is one of the best when it comes to managing the cap but that doesn’t mean that certain veterans might not have to go. So whose contracts will be scrutinized the most?

The list likely will include quarterback Kirk Cousins, defensive end Danielle Hunter, linebacker Eric Kendricks, defensive tackle Michael Pierce, safety Harrison Smith and wide receiver Adam Thielen.

  • Cousins, 33, would carry a $45 million cap hit for 2022, but it would provide cap savings of $35 million if he is traded. Cousins also could have his contract restructured and extended, although it seems unlikely a new GM and coach would want to do that.
  • Hunter, 27, who did not play in 2020 because of injury and was lost after only seven games this season, has a $26.1 million cap hit for 2022. If he’s traded or released with a post-June 1 designation, the Vikings would save $20 million in cap room. Hunter is due an $18 million roster bonus in March, so the Vikings might look to rework his contract for the second time in less than a year.
  • Kendricks, who will turn 30 at the end of February, has a $13.5 million cap hit for next season. A post June 1 departure for Kendricks would save the Vikings $9.5 million under the cap.
  • Pierce, 29, the Vikings’ big free agent acquisition in 2020, has played in only eight games in two seasons. He carries a cap hit of $10.5 million for 2022. The Vikings could save anywhere between $6.5 million and $8.5 million, depending on when they move on from him.
  • Smith, 32, signed a contract extension last August and will count $13.5 million against the cap in 2022. Again, a release or trade with a post June 1 date on it would save the Vikings big money. In this case, $11.6 million. If he was released or traded without the June 1 date, the Vikings would take a bigger dead money hit ($7.7 million) than they would save against the cap ($5.8 million).
  • Thielen’s contract presents the same issue as Smith’s, but his cap hit is scheduled to be a nearly certain to be reworked $16.9 million. Trade or release the 31-year-old without the June 1 designation and the dead money ($11.1 million) far outweighs the cap savings ($5.8 million). But with that designation, the cap savings climb to $12.6 million.

One thing that has to be kept in mind is standout wide receiver Justin Jefferson will be up for a huge payday after next season. Jefferson, the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2020 draft, is playing under his rookie contract ($13.1 million, four years). He will be eligible to have his fifth-year option for 2024 picked up by May 2023.

But he also will be eligible for a new contract in the spring of 2023, and, assuming he continues to produce like he has in his first two seasons (two Pro Bowl selections), the Vikings might want to reward him with a new long-term deal at that point. The good news is that the NFL’s salary cap is expected to continue to climb so that would be more manageable.

  • Add Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to the list of candidates whom the Vikings want to interview for their head coaching position. Morris went 17-31 as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009 to 2011 and replaced Dan Quinn as interim coach of the Falcons in 2020. Peter Schrager of NFL Network was the first to report on the Vikings’ interest in Morris.
  • Scoopmaster Darren (Doogie) Wolfson told us Tuesday that Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy has not heard from the Vikings, but there are some who expect the former Vikings running backs coach will get an interview.
  • There has been plenty of speculation (some of it reckless) that the Timberwolves could make a bid to acquire Indiana Pacers center and shot-blocker extraordinaire Myles Turner. The 25-year-old, however, might not be going anywhere before the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 10. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Turner is expected to be sidelined past the deadline as he recovers from a stress fracture in his left foot. The plan is for Turner to be examined again in two weeks, so any team interested in him likely would have to be confident he can return and contribute without seeing him play first.
  • Center Marco Rossi, who played two games for the Wild this month before being returned to Iowa, leads the AHL team with 25 points in 24 games this season. He has scored three of his eight goals on the power play.
  • Matthew Boldy, who like Rossi was a first-round pick of the Wild, appears to be here to stay. The winger already has outstanding chemistry with Kevin Fiala on a line centered by Frederick Gaudreau. The line generated two goals in the Wild’s 7-3 victory over Anaheim last Friday as Fiala scored the first goal with an assist from Boldy. Fiala then scored his ninth goal, and the Wild’s first of the game, with Boldy picking up the assist on Monday afternoon in a 4-3 shootout loss at Colorado. Fiala now has a six-game point streak in which he has five goals and two assists.
  • How much faith does Wild coach Dean Evason have in his younger players? Boldy and defenseman Calen Addison are both being used on the first power play in hopes of giving that unit a spark. The team’s disappointing power play is operating at 17 percent, putting it 24th in the NHL. Addison is seeing regular time with defenseman Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon sidelined by injury.