The Minnesota Vikings have been silent on Mike Hughes this offseason.
That silence reaches its impact on Monday, when the deadline to exercise Hughes’ fifth-year option will pass. KSTP’s Darren Wolfson reported on Sunday that the Vikings are not expected to pick up Hughes’ fifth-year option — a reaffirmation of previous reports surrounding the former No. 30 overall pick from 2018.
“That deadline will come and go tomorrow with the Vikings not picking up Mike Hughes’ fifth-year option,” Wolfson said on Sunday morning.
Unless Minnesota has a change of heart at the 11th hour, Hughes enters the final year of his rookie deal with much to prove after a career plagued by injury.
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Hughes Has An Opportunity Ahead
The Vikings’ decision not to exercise Hughes’ fifth-year option could be taken as damnation to Hughes. However, Hughes still has a chance to prove his worth, especially with 2020 first-round pick Jeff Gladney facing domestic violence charges that could force him to miss time this season.
Availability will be Hughes’ biggest hurdle to overcome in 2021 after missing 36 of 50 games since 2018 due to neck and ACL injuries.
Gladney was poised to take a supplementary role as a slot cornerback behind presumptive starter Mackensie Alexander, the former 2016 second-round pick who Minnesota re-signed this offseason after a year away with the Cincinnati Bengals. Hughes slides into that spot as the No. 2 slot cornerback and is also comfortable lining up outside. He’ll likely be the No. 3 option behind veteran Patrick Peterson and 2020 third-round pick Cameron Dantzler.
The playing time is there for Hughes, but he’ll need to grasp the opportunity and stay healthy in a year where the entire defense will have a chip on their shoulder after an abysmal 2020 season.
If Hughes does not make a lasting impression, the Vikings save roughly $9.7 million on the 2022 salary cap by not exercising his fifth-year option, per Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson.
Vikings Secondary Vital for Turnaround in 2022
Minnesota’s secondary will be vital to turning around the defense which allowed 393.3 yards per game — the sixth-most in the league.
The Vikings defense allowed 7.65 yards per pass attempt, ranking 30th in the league — but that wasn’t entirely on the secondary. The defensive line produced the third-lowest pass-rush win rate last season (36%) and had the second-worst run Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), per Football Outsiders.
Minnesota’s defensive struggles need to be resolved in the trenches. Still, after the secondary was projected to be the biggest liability of the 2020 season — replacing three starters from 2019 — the group turned a corner, producing the 14th ranked DVOA pass defense.
The return of Pro Bowlers Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter, along with a rebuilt defensive interior featuring Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson should produce more pressure on passers in 2022, buying the secondary more opportunities to make plays.
Along with Alexander and Peterson, Hughes will see his contract expire in 2022, making next season decisive on the future of the cornerbacks room.