A day after the Vikings activated Pat Elflein from injured reserve, despite the fact his surgically-repaired left thumb was still preventing him from practicing, it became clear why they’d put him back on the active roster: so they could release him and give him a chance to play elsewhere.
The team announced Saturday morning it released Elflein, who has been on injured reserve since Sept. 17 after tearing a ligament in his thumb. Elflein, whom the Vikings had traded up to select in the third round of the 2017 draft, was replaced at center after the 2018 season when the Vikings took Garrett Bradbury in the first round, and shifted to right guard this year after a disappointing season at left guard.
With Elflein out and Dru Samia battling a wrist injury after a rough stretch at right guard, the Vikings have turned to Ezra Cleveland, who’s played capably in two wins over the Packers and Lions. The team had pegged Cleveland as its left tackle of the future when it took him in the second round of the draft this spring; Cleveland could be starting there now if Riley Reiff had decided not to take a pay cut when the Vikings asked him to do so at the end of August. But with Reiff staying on the roster, playing well this season and potentially working his way back into the team’s future plans, Cleveland could stay at guard, where he’s formed a strong pairing with right tackle Brian O’Neill.
In addition to giving Elflein a chance at a job elsewhere, the Vikings’ move should clear around $878,000 of cap space. Elflein’s base salary had jumped to $2.133 million this year because of playing time-based escalators that kicked in after his first three seasons, but his salary was not guaranteed for 2020.