A day after the Vikings agreed to terms with two players to help shore up their defense, they spent Tuesday making moves to clear cap space for the rest of their efforts.
The team released defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, clearing $3.75 million of cap space a day after it signed former Giants tackle Dalvin Tomlinson to replace him. Stephen had one year remaining on the three-year deal he'd signed in 2019, when the Vikings brought him back for a second stint in Minnesota following a season in Seattle.
Stephen, a seventh-round pick in 2014, became a favorite of the Vikings' coaching staff for his technique and attention to detail, but he'd benefitted from playing alongside a stalwart nose tackle like Linval Joseph for much of his time in Minnesota.
When Michael Pierce opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns, it left the Vikings without as big of a physical presence in the middle of their line, and Stephen's play suffered as a result.
The Vikings agreed to a two-year deal with Tomlinson on Monday night, and sources have indicated they plan to play him next to Pierce as part of a tackle tandem they hope will shore up one of the league's worst run defenses from a year ago.
The Vikings also continued to work on restructuring wide receiver Adam Thielen's contract by converting most of his $11.1 million base salary for 2021 into a signing bonus. The expected move would give Thielen a $1.1 million base — near the league veteran minimum of $1.075 million — and a $10 million bonus for 2021. It would be paid in weekly installments like his base salary, but the Vikings could spread the cap hits out over the final four years of his deal.
Thielen would make the same amount of money he was originally scheduled to make, but his cap figure (counting his workout bonus, per-game roster bonuses and proration from his previous signing bonus) would drop from $13.468 million to $6 million.
Stephen's release and a Thielen restructure would give the Vikings a fresh infusion of cap space before the start of the league year on Wednesday afternoon, as they continue to look for upgrades on defense especially.
Though the Vikings are considering bringing safety Anthony Harris back, they've also looked at other options like the Falcons' Keanu Neal and the Broncos' Will Parks, according to league sources. One source said the team had made an offer to Bengals cornerback Mackensie Alexander.
Alexander, the Vikings' 2016 second-round pick, left for a one-year contract with Cincinnati in free agency last year. He played with an injured knee in the Vikings' 2019 regular-season finale, instead of being rested like many of the team's key players, and needed surgery that caused him to miss the Vikings' two playoff games. The sequence irked Alexander at the end of his time with the Vikings, and he joined Trae Waynes with the Bengals.
If Alexander were to return to Minnesota, though, he could get a chance to play a significant role in a Vikings secondary short on experience.
In addition to releasing Stephen, the Vikings decided not to place a restricted free agent tender on defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, according to a league source. He played through elbow injuries last season, posting only 3 1/2 sacks a year after he'd picked up seven as a rotational pass rusher.
Had the Vikings placed a right-of-first-refusal tender on Odenigbo, it would have cost them $2.1 million with only a chance to receive a seventh-round pick in return. Sources have said this week the Vikings do not plan to tender any of their three restricted free agents (Odenigbo, wide receiver Chad Beebe and running back Mike Boone), though it's possible Beebe and Boone could return on less expensive deals.