Three days before the opening of free agency in the NFL, the Vikings have finalized three moves to begin their roster overhaul, releasing guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin.
Since being elevated to general manager in January, Rick Spielman has made it very clear that the beginning stages of the team’s rebuilding project will involve a move to make the roster younger. Cutting ties with Hutchinson, who’s 34 years old, and Herrera (31) will accelerate that process. It will also free the Vikings from a pair of hefty contracts that may have become anchors as the team prepares to browse the free agent market early next 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 to make 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.
Despite losing two tough and tenacious offensive linemen, the Vikings figure to have plenty of reinforcement at the guard position. Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier are both high on the abilities of Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco. Charlie Johnson, who played left tackle in 2011, will also 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.
Chris DeGeare is another player who could bolster depth at the position.
Griffin's release was not surprising either. He struggled mightily in coverage in 2011 and his confidence seemed to dip substantially throughout the second half of the season, leading up to his outright benching in Week 14 in Detroit. By season’s end, it seemed clear that Griffin’s days in the Twin Cities were numbered, the veteran cornerback looking for a change of scenery and an escape from a situation that seemed to grow quite toxic through last year’s struggles.
Equally significant, the Vikings’ ability to free themselves from Hutchinson’s, Herrera’s and Griffin's salaries put the team in position to potentially make a big splash in free agency, where they expect to be somewhere in the ballpark of $23-24 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 field over the years. We wish all of them the best and thank them for their service to the Minnesota Vikings."