Safety Madieu Williams was among three Vikings players released on Thursday.
Veteran defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy and wide receiver Freddie Brown also were let go. It was known for two days those moves were coming.
Williams' release might not have leaked out before Thursday -- the first day teams could make cuts -- but it does not come as a surprise. The reality was he was never the same player after suffering a severe neck injury during his first training camp with the Vikings.
Williams was due to make $5.4 million this season and had a cap number of $5.5 million. Williams came to the Vikings from Cincinnati as a free agent in 2008, agreeing to a six-year, $33 million free-agent contract with almost $13 million in guarantees.
Williams, who will turn 30 on Oct. 18, was known more for his coverage skills than his hitting when he arrived in Minnesota. There was little doubt then Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had plenty to do with Williams' being signed. Frazier, who is now the Vikings coach, had been Cincinnati's defensive coordinator during Williams' rookie season in 2004.
Williams got off to an impressive start in training camp in 2008, but hurt his neck early in camp and missed the first seven games of the season. Williams struggled last season with taking angles on plays and his tackling. As for his coverage skills, he had nine interceptions in four seasons with the Bengals but only three in three seasons with the Vikings. Part of that was because of how deep the Vikings would play their safeties, something they tried to alter last season by bringing them up a few yards.
Williams played in 14 games last season, starting 13 times, and missed the final two regular-season games after suffering a concussion against Chicago while playing at TCF Bank Stadium.
Williams and wide receiver Bernard Berrian ($6.3 million cap number) both seemed like logical candidates to be let go as the Vikings worked to get their salary cap to the $120 million limit by Aug. 4. However, Berrian remains on the roster at this point. The Vikings lost their No. 1 wide receiver, Sidney Rice, on Wednesday when he agreed to terms with Seattle.
The Vikings remained in negotiations with Packers free-agent wide receiver James Jones on Thursday afternoon.
Frazier had been asked a few times about whether Williams would be let go but gave no indication that would happen. However, with the salary cap back in play this year the move makes sense. An NFL source said the Vikings did not ask Williams to restructure his contract for the second time since he joined the Vikings.
Said Frazier at the NFL owners meetings in March: "[Williams] provides great leadership for us in the secondary. We’d like for him to get his hands on a few more balls [he had one interception in 2010 and has three in three years with the Vikings], but his leadership is probably the thing that really sticks out -- just being able to control our secondary, get guys lined up correctly, understanding the system. That’s probably the biggest asset to what we do, and until we have another guy who we think can supplant him in that role, that’s the way it’ll probably be."
The move has to be considered good news for Tyrell Johnson, a second-round pick in 2008, who played in only seven games last season but should get a chance to battle Jamarca Sanford for the free safety job. Husain Abdullah was the Vikings' strong safety last season. There remains a chance the team also could add a free agent.
Williams, who won the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2010 for his wide-ranging charitable work, had renegotiated his contract in December 2009, but his base salary was still slated to jump from $2.974 million in 2010 to $5.4 million each of the next three seasons.
While the Vikings released one of their safeties, they are keeping another. Free-agent Eric Frampton, who is a valuable contributor on special teams, has agreed to terms on a deal.
The Vikings also officially announced the signings of undrafted free agents Alexander Robinson (running back) of Iowa State and Ed Barham (tight end) of North Carolina.