Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's first offseason for the Minnesota Vikings is going to be a high-wire act.
On one end, Adofo-Mensah needs to eliminate the Vikings' salary cap woes. On the other, he has to find a way to keep the team competitive heading into the 2022 season.
With the Vikings' $14 million over the salary cap, there are some important decisions that need to be made. That could signal the end for several fan favorites but which ones are the most likely to move on?
Cousins is the most polarizing figure on the team. He has the stats of a franchise quarterback but his $45 million cap hit is the third-highest in the league.
The Vikings could dangle Cousins in a bullish quarterback market. But early in the offseason, the Vikings appear to be catering to Cousins.
The hiring of Kevin O'Connell, who worked with Cousins as Washington's quarterback coach in 2017, is one example of putting Cousins in a position to succeed. Another would be adding pieces around him to make the team successful.
To do this, the Vikings will have to work out a new contract that lowers Cousins' hit for 2022. ESPN's Adam Schefter and NFL Network's Tom Pelissero have both reported the team is on board but Cousins has been reluctant to sign team-friendly deals in the past.
Speaking after the season finale, Cousins said he wants to remain a Viking for the rest of his career. But if the Vikings are willing to work things out, it could be up to Cousins to make that a reality.
In seven seasons, Hunter has already become one of the best pass-rushers in franchise history. But his contract is another time bomb that Rick Spielman created on the way out the door.
Hunter's $26.5 million cap hit is the second-highest on the team. This includes an $18 million roster bonus due on March 20. This structure creates a deadline for the Vikings to either sign him to a new contract or choose to move on.
One deciding factor is his injury history. After missing 26 games over the past two seasons, the Vikings may be reluctant to give Hunter a massive contract. Hunter could also demand a trade over his contract demands or the Vikings' potential move to a 3-4 scheme under new (reportedly) defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
Adofo-Mensah has been part of teams that invest in their defensive line. The San Francisco 49ers added Nick Bosa while he was director of research and development. The Cleveland Browns made Myles Garrett the highest-paid edge rusher in the league while he was an assistant general manager.
At 27 years old, Hunter could have several more productive seasons left. It's for the Vikings to decide if it's worth the gamble.
One of the puzzling decisions by the old regime was where they spent their money. Most teams try to patch together a pair of safeties but the Vikings signed Harrison Smith to a four-year, $64 million extension last offseason.
That deal would have been fine if Smith was still in his prime. But entering his age-33 season, it seems like an overpay.
Smith can fit into any type of scheme but the Vikings can find a cost-effective option to replace him. Camryn Bynum played well in limited duty last season and the Vikings can dip back into the free-agent market to find a cheaper solution.
Smith will be inducted into the Vikings' Ring of Honor someday. But for a team looking to reload, it could make more sense to take the draft picks.
Over the past three seasons, only Derrick Henry has more rushing yards and touchdowns than Cook. But with teams using a more cost-efficient approach to their backfield, Cook could be made expendable.
Cook is currently scheduled to carry an $11.8 million cap hit next season. Since 2019, Henry is the only running back to crack the top 10 in rushing yards with a cap hit of over $10 million.
Even more interesting is that the Los Angeles Rams ate over $20 million in dead money after releasing Todd Gurley after the 2019 season. With O'Connell as offensive coordinator, Cam Akers and Sony Michel have led the Rams in rushing yards for a combined cost of $2.8 million.
The Vikings would eat $9.3 million in dead money if they released Cook but it would clear up $2.5 million in cap space in 2022 and $14.1 million in 2023. With Alexander Mattison and Kene Nwangwu as capable options on the roster, the Vikings could also add a cost-effective option in free agency or the draft.
With O'Connell likely to employ a more pass-heavy approach, it could mean changes for Cook.