Three days before the opening of free agency, the Vikings finalized three moves Saturday to begin their roster overhaul by releasing guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin.
Let the rebuilding begin.
Since being elevated to general manager in January, Rick Spielman has made it clear that the beginning stages of the team's reconstruction will involve making the roster younger. Cutting ties with Hutchinson, who is 34 years old, and Herrera, 31, will accelerate that process.
Subtract Griffin from the mix as well and the Vikings have managed to free themselves from a trio of hefty contracts that might have become anchors as the team prepares to attack the free-agent market early this week.
Hutchinson, who has played 11 NFL seasons including the past six with the Vikings, was scheduled to make close to $7 million next season in the final year of his contract. Herrera was due close to $2.7 million in the final year of his deal. Instead, both guards have been thanked for their services to the Vikings -- that's 14 years between them -- and will now move on.
Yet despite losing two tough and tenacious veteran offensive linemen, the Vikings still figure to have plenty of reinforcements at guard. Charlie Johnson, who played left tackle in 2011, will likely move inside to guard if the team opts to draft Southern Cal's Matt Kalil with the No. 3 pick in next month's draft. Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier are also high on the abilities of Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco.
Griffin's release also was far from surprising. The 29-year-old cornerback struggled mightily in 2011, never the same player after undergoing major surgeries on both knees within a nine-month span in 2010.
Griffin's confidence seemed to dip substantially throughout the second half of last season, leading up to his outright benching in Week 14 in Detroit. By season's end, it seemed clear his days in the Twin Cities were numbered.
Equally significant now, the Vikings' ability to free themselves from the salaries of Hutchinson, Herrera and Griffin now puts the team in position to potentially make a big splash in free agency, where they expect to be somewhere around $24 million under the salary cap when the new league year begins Tuesday.
In a statement released by the Vikings, Frazier said: "It was a tough decision as we move forward and prepare for the upcoming season and the future of our organization. All three individuals have meant a great deal to the Vikings organization both on and off the field over the years. We wish all of them the best and thank them for their service to the Minnesota Vikings."