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The Minnesota Vikings have reached an important spot in its history.
The Vikings still appear to be in the midst of a playoff window, despite a postseason berth being pretty much out of reach in 2020. Will the Vikings try to rebuild on the fly while still competing? Or will the team say goodbye to a few too many veterans and compete down the road?
In what is gearing up to be a cash-strapped 2021, Minnesota has to decide which players to let walk and which ones to keep around.
Here are seven potential openings on the Vikings in the 2021 NFL season:
Three-technique defensive tackle
Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports
Armon Watts and Jaleel Johnson have not looked convincing in big roles. Shamar Stephen could move over from nose tackle to three-technique with Michael Pierce on the team, but Stephen wasn't stellar this year, either. I could see the three-technique spot being filled by a young player, maybe even a rookie.
AP Photo/David Berding)
Dakota Dozier has not cut it as a starter this season. Dru Samia looked pretty inconsistent in his brief time as a starting guard. Brett Jones looked serviceable, but I think the most likely option for the Vikings is to get a new player to fill that spot — whether that's through the draft or free agency.
Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports
Sure, Danielle Hunter is coming back, but neither Jalyn Holmes or Ifeadi Odenigbo proved to be long-term starters at the other defensive end spot. Maybe Odenigbo improves, but I think the Vikings should look for someone else at this point.
Photo: Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Rudolph is on a big contract and the Vikings are going to be strapped for cash in 2021. It makes sense to move on and let Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin become the tight end one and two, respectively. Maybe Conklin doesn't take on that big of a role, but he has looked good in 2020 when given more playing time.
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The Vikings have a tough financial decision to make at safety. Does the team re-sign Anthony Harris? He might command a large contract. Minnesota may also have to get rid of Harrison Smith. He will earn more than $9.8 million in 2021 if the Vikings keep him around and don't restructure. There is zero dead money on his contract if the team cuts him, per Over The Cap. Of course, Smith could still garner high trade value, so ideally for the Vikings, they find a trade that works as opposed to just letting him walk. But with how Minnesota's cap situation is next season, the Vikings may have to say goodbye to Smith or Harris, despite those two being some of the defense's best players.
Photo: AP Photo/David Berding
Similar to Smith and Harris, the Vikings moving on from Riley Reiff would be unrelated to his skill level. Reiff has played well in 2020. The left tackle will make a little more than $6.6 million in 2021 as it stands right now. That's not even a bad contract, but the Vikings have reached a point where they have to find cap-saving solutions. If the team thinks Ezra Cleveland is ready for the left guard spot, they may want to move on from Reiff.
Wide receiver three
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Adam Thielen is still Adam Thielen. Justin Jefferson has emerged as a star. But after that, the Vikings could use a decent wideout. Bisi Johnson and Chad Beebe have looked inconsistent. The Tajae Sharpe experiment did not work out as the team waived him this year. Minnesota has been playing two wide receiver sets quite often, but could some of that be contributed to the lack of good depth behind Thielen and Jefferson? We'll have to see whether the Vikings go out and find new wideout.