Last week, the Minnesota Vikings cleared the cap space necessary to target key free agents by releasing starting left guard Steve Hutchinson, right guard Anthony Herrera, and cornerback Cedric Griffin. All three players had their moments with the Vikings, but all three also experienced significant injuries in the past two years--injuries that plagued them in 2011 and portended more of the same in 2012.
At 35, Hutchinson ought still to have some years left in him in the league. A switch to the right side of the line likely would extend his run, as would a full recuperation from lingering shoulder ailments that forced him to miss seven games, and struggle in others, over the past two years. But with a need for certainty somewhere on the offensive line, Hutchinson was no longer a good fit in Minnesota, particularly as Minnesota is in position to draft at least one near-certain starter on the offensive line and likely will bring in two or three more offensive linemen to challenge for starting positions.
Should the Vikings select Matt Kalil in the first round of the draft, Kalil would take over for Charley Johnson at left tackle, bumping Johnson to left guard. That would leave the right side of the line still in limbo with Herrera's spot likely up for grabs to either a free-agent or Joe Berger, and Phil Loadholt likely forced to prove that the Vikings did not waste yet another high draft pick.
Like Hutchinson and Herrera, who missed 12 games over the past three years, cornerback Cedric Griffin's career in Minnesota was derailed by injuries. After suffering ACL injuries to both knees, Griffin attempted to return to the field last year but was merely a shell of the player he was prior to the injuries--a player that was average in coverage in the best of times. Releasing Hererra and Griffin saved the Vikings an additional $6 million.
In the wake of these cuts, the Vikings have three holes to fill. But those holes essentially have existed for the past two seasons as the Vikings have been unable to count on the health and productiveness of any of the three players for at least that long. The cuts thus represent not a rebuilding movement, but, more appropriately, an acknowledgment of a need to replace unproductive players. This recognition comes with the added benefit of freeing up substantial salary cap space, giving the Vikings an opportunity not only to fill the three holes left by the cuts, but possibly other holes, as well.
Up Next: Free-Agent Maneuverings. Plus, replacing Kleinsasser?