The Vikings severed ties with running back Ciatrick Fason and wide receiver Billy McMullen on Friday as they began paring their roster to the regular-season limit of 53. The team informed 11 players they would be cut, meaning another 11 must be let go before today's 5 p.m. deadline.
The Vikings hadn't submitted their moves to the NFL by the close of business Friday, meaning the players names did not hit the league wire. However, club officials spent part of the morning alerting them about their decisions before holding a team picnic.
According to people with knowledge of the situation, those who got the bad news included safety Patrick Body; offensive linemen Kyle Cook, Norm Katnik and Jimmy Martin; defensive tackle Howard Green; linebacker George Hall; receiver Cortez Hankton; and tight ends Richard Owens and Stephen Spach.
The Vikings had no media availability Friday, and coach Brad Childress isn't scheduled to speak to the media again until Wednesday. The team will open the regular-season a week from Sunday against Atlanta.
The Vikings roster is at 65 players heading into today, but guard Seppo Evwaraye has an exemption because he's part of the NFL's International Development practice squad program. The breakdown includes four quarterbacks; eight receivers; 10 offensive linemen; three fullbacks; four running backs; two tight ends; 12 defensive linemen; seven linebackers; seven cornerbacks; five safeties; and three special teams players.
Today's cuts are expected to include rookie quarterback Tyler Thigpen. Childress indicated last week that Thigpen likely would end up on the practice squad; the seventh-round pick would have to clear waivers before he can be placed on the unit, which will be assembled Sunday.
The Vikings also will spend time today looking at the waiver wire and could look at adding an offensive lineman and potentially a receiver. Veteran receiver Keenan McCardell was released by Houston on Friday. The Texans also let go of receiver Bethel Johnson, who spent time with the Vikings last year.
While none of Friday's decisions could be called a surprise, the end of the tenures of Fason, McMullen and Owens in Minnesota qualify as the most noteworthy.
Fason's departure leaves the Vikings with four running backs: Chester Taylor, Adrian Peterson, Mewelde Moore and Artose Pinner. It's possible the team could spend today gauging Moore's or Pinner's trade value around the league.
Fason was a fourth-round selection by the Vikings in 2005 and rushed for 62 yards on 32 carries in 13 games as a rookie. He had four touchdowns working as the Vikings' goal-line back. But Fason was active for only five games last season, gaining 99 yards on 18 carries with one score. The majority of that came Dec. 3 at Chicago when he replaced the injured Taylor and gained a career-high 75 rushing yards on 11 carries.
McMullen came to the Vikings in a trade with the Eagles for receiver Hank Baskett in May 2006. One of the reasons the Vikings liked McMullen was because of his knowledge of the West Coast offense that Childress brought with him from Philadelphia, where he had been offensive coordinator.
"Obviously, he's very disappointed," said John Rickert, who serves as McMullen's agent. "There was a comfort level there with Coach Childress' system and he felt like he could fit in there and contribute. ... Billy is still very confident in his ability to play in the league and as soon as he has the opportunity he will be ready to go and perform."
Last season, McMullen established career highs with 23 receptions for 307 yards and two touchdowns. He tied for the third on the Vikings this preseason with four receptions for 43 yards; three of those catches and all but 5 of the yards came in the Vikings' 23-14 victory over Dallas on Thursday in the fourth and final preseason game.
Owens had played three seasons for the Vikings, having signed as a free agent out of Louisville. He emerged as a key member of the special teams in 2005 under then-coach Mike Tice and led that unit with 22 tackles. Last season, Owens had six catches for 45 yards and a touchdown in 16 games (two starts).
Jeff Chilcoat, who serves as Owens' agent, doesn't anticipate his client will have any trouble landing with a new team but also didn't close the door on a return to the Vikings. "I think there potentially would be an opportunity with Minnesota," Chilcoat said. "Guys get banged up. Richard wouldn't be adverse to that at all. He's had a good experience in Minnesota."