Competition was the Vikings’ offseason mantra, but in reality there weren’t many openings on a talented roster that just won the NFC North.
General Manager Rick Spielman predicted a tougher 2016 depth chart to crack for newcomers when he dealt the Vikings’ third-round pick this spring to Miami for more draft capital next year. But only nine new faces made the team Saturday as the Vikings let go 20 players and placed two more on injured reserve to finalize the initial 53-man roster.
“The depth on this roster has improved over the past couple years with all the picks we’ve had,” Spielman said Saturday.
The new guys included five draft picks, three primary free-agent signings and one brand-new starting quarterback in Sam Bradford, acquired from Philadelphia.
The Vikings placed veteran safety Michael Griffin and cornerback Jabari Price on injured reserve. Griffin, 31, was signed to a one-year deal this spring before a back injury sidelined him in the preseason. It’s his first time on IR in his 10 NFL seasons, while Price, a 2014 seventh-round pick, is starting his second stint in less than a year.
The Vikings kept four safeties, including rookie seventh-rounder Jayron Kearse.
The most noteworthy cut was fourth-round pick Willie Beavers, waived after a disappointing summer. Beavers is the team’s highest pick (121st overall) to not make the initial 53-man roster in three years under coach Mike Zimmer.
Beavers was one of three rookie draft picks placed on the waiver wire Saturday. The Vikings also parted ways, at least briefly, with sixth-round German receiver Moritz Bohringer and seventh-round defensive end Stephen Weatherly.
“Some of the guys we cut I feel very strongly about are talented enough to be on a 53,” Spielman said. “But you have to, what I say is kind of move the shell game around a little bit. And things can change.”
Bohringer’s feel-good story started as the first European player drafted without playing college football, though it became immediately clear how far behind he started compared to his teammates. He did not catch his lone preseason target and was seldom used, failing to earn much playing time over the likes of second-year receiver Isaac Fruechte, who also was waived.
Both Bohringer and Fruechte are likely to be added to the 10-man practice squad, which the Vikings will begin piecing together Sunday.
“There are guys that I know that we’re very interested to bring back,” Spielman said. “That we feel very strongly about that will have a role on this team as soon as this year, or for sure down the road in the future.”
Duluth native and running back C.J. Ham was waived and is a strong candidate to return to the Vikings practice squad. Undrafted quarterback Joel Stave is another who likely will rejoin the team after being waived Saturday. Stave, a Wisconsin product, completed 28 of 51 passes for 285 yards and an interception during three exhibition appearances.
The Vikings sit with only two quarterbacks — Bradford and Shaun Hill — on the active roster after also waiving Brad Sorensen, who re-signed this week and played most of Thursday’s preseason finale.
At quarterback, the Vikings moved Taylor Heinicke to the reserve/non-football injury list. The 23-year-old Heinicke is ahead in his rehab from a torn foot tendon suffered in July, though he’ll be sidelined for at least the first six weeks of the regular season, per NFL rules, before he can return to practice.
Nose tackle Kenrick Ellis was released. Also waived were defensive linemen Zach Moore, Travis Raciti and Toby Johnson; linebackers Brandon Watts and Jake Ganus; cornerback Tre Roberson; running back Jhurell Pressley; tight end Kyle Carter; fullback Blake Renaud; and offensive linemen Carter Bykowski and Isame Faciane.
While an initial roster is set, the Vikings’ turnover may continue.
“We’ll be here until 2 in the morning comparing what we currently have to what’s out there,” Spielman said. “And we’ve been aggressive in the past about making a trade here or there or claiming a player here or there. And that’s not going to change.”