MINNEAPOLIS -- After missing the Super Bowl by a few plays two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings have fallen apart, posting a 9-23 regular season record since.
To put the pieces back together, they have to get younger. So their decision Saturday to drop three established, expensive players from the roster was no surprise.
The Vikings released left guard Steve Hutchinson, right guard Anthony Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin, saving more than $13 million for this year by jettisoning three players who've been in their starting lineup for the better part of the past five seasons or more.
Hutchinson, a five-time first-team All-Pro pick, was the most significant departure, though at age 34 with a $6.95 million salary that was due this year he realized he was just as likely to be let go as any other number of veterans who don't fit in the franchise's future plan. Hutchinson left the Seattle Seahawks in 2006 to sign the richest contract for a guard in league history and gave the Vikings plenty of bang for their buck until injuries slowed him down in recent seasons.
With the No. 3 pick in next month's draft, the Vikings should have a shot at celebrated USC left tackle Matt Kalil. If they do that, incumbent Charlie Johnson could be moved to Hutchinson's spot. They'll have to find a new starter at right guard, too, without Herrera.
An undrafted free agent who made the team out of Tennessee in 2004, Herrera worked his way into the starting lineup in 2007 and helped clear holes on some of running back Adrian Peterson's best days. But he's 31 and would've drawn a $2.65 million salary. Herrera came off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and started 12 games last year. Journeyman Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco, a sixth-round draft pick before last season, are two existing candidates to take over for Herrera.
Griffin's comeback from ACL tears in both knees -- both during the 2010 calendar year -- was a remarkable feat, but the 29-year-old just wasn't the same in 2011. He appeared in all 16 games but was benched down the stretch even with the Vikings badly in need of capable cornerbacks in this increasingly pass-driven NFL. He was distant and moody much of the season and expressed his dissatisfaction with his demotion.
Griffin still had three years left on the contract extension he signed in March 2009, including a $4.1 million salary for this season. Another top cornerback, Chris Cook, remains in legal limbo with his felony assault trial ongoing. But given the way the past year played out for Griffin, bringing him back would've been awkward and likely unproductive.
General manager Rick Spielman hinted recently that moves like this were coming.
"Sometimes, when you move on from guys, it has nothing to do with their character and what they brought to the team. Sometimes, you just have to make some tough business decisions," he said.
In a news release distributed by the team on Saturday, coach Leslie Frazier referred to this as a "tough decision" while wishing the trio well.
"All three individuals have meant a great deal to the Vikings organization both on and off field over the years," Frazier said.