When the Vikings officially announce their 53-man roster sometime between now and tomorrow evening, they will conclude what coach Leslie Frazier says "is, without question, one of the toughest parts" of his job.
"When you sit down with them on that Saturday, or Friday, they come by the office and you explain to them that their career in Minnesota is going to be over, and there's a possibility it may be over for good, it can get emotional," Frazier said. "You spend a lot of time with them from April on, and some, like the veterans, you've been with them for years. To have to explain to them or let them know that the end of the journey is now, it's a tough time, a very tough time."
Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman collaborate on the process with Frazier's coaching staff, but the final say belongs to Spielman. The process is more a discussion than a negotiation -- "There are no chips (to play)," Frazier says -- but the head coach's input on whom he feels he can work with also carries plenty of weight.
"One of the things that he’s learned and I’ve learned is that you don’t want to make that decision about a player if the coaches -- the head coach in particular -- are totally against it," Frazier said. "It’s hard if as a coach, you have to get this guy going and so on and then you don’t necessarily believe in it. It’s a tough deal, but we’ve been very fortunate in our relationship where we can discuss every single guy."
When the Vikings finish their deliberations, here's our guess at how their 53-man roster will look:
The Vikings' only question here appears to be whether they keep Bethel-Thompson or go into the season with two quarterbacks. Considering they've spent a year developing the strong-armed 25-year-old, and the fact that they're not exactly entrenched at the position with Ponder and Cassel, they'll keep him around to continue working with him.
This group will likely have a different look after Week 3, when Jerome Felton is eligible to return from his suspension. His return might push Line to the practice squad, but for now, the undrafted free agent makes it as another fullback option. He was impressive as a pass-catcher in the preseason, and made a nice kick-out block on Joe Banyard's 18-yard run in the fourth quarter on Thursday night. Banyard had a nice preseason, but loses out to Asiata, who has been strong on special teams. Banyard could be a practice squad candidate, though, after spending time there last year.
Had this decision been made a couple of weeks ago, Stephen Burton might have grabbed the spot over Webb. But the converted quarterback caught a touchdown pass on Sunday night against San Francisco, and though he dropped a pass on Thursday night, he had the most targets and catches among wide receivers. The Vikings have invested enough time into the Webb experiment that they'll continue to see it through, especially with Burton being inconsistent late in the preseason; he stopped short on a route that helped lead to Ponder's interception on Sunday night, and caught just one pass for 14 yards on Thursday. Greg Childs also lands on the PUP list, where he'll get more time to try to return from two knee injuries.
Few surprises here; Rudolph is the starter, Carlson gets another year to work his way into the offense and Ellison stays for his contributions as a run-blocker, which could land him more playing time at fullback while Felton is out.
The starting five returns intact from a year ago, and Baca -- the fifth-round pick who played center extensively on Thursday night -- beats out Joe Berger for one of the reserve spots. Baca, who can also play guard, will team with Olsen to give the Vikings a pair of versatile interior linemen off the bench. Keith, a veteran who can play guard and tackle, beats out rookie Travis Bond for the last spot.
The Vikings will have a couple of tough decisions to make here; we have D'Aundre Reed, who spent the 2012 season on the 53-man roster, off the team in favor of Johnson, whom the Vikings signed late last season. Baker also gets a spot, at least for the early part of the season, with the Vikings' defensive line depth is a concern and Christian Ballard remains away from the team. The Vikings will either have to cut Ballard or leave him on the reserve/left squad list, but it seems unlikely they'll give him a roster spot at this point.
At one of the more competitive spots on the roster, the Vikings go young with a pair of rookies (Hodges and Mauti) and a second-year linebacker (Cole). Dean sticks because of his value on special teams, and Bishop -- who has looked better in the final two preseason games -- could wind up starting at weakside linebacker. There are injury concerns here with Bishop and Mauti, but if both players are healthy, they offer more upside than Tyrone McKenzie.
Sherels and Felder have been fighting for one of the final spots on the roster, but both offer enough value on special teams that the Vikings will keep them both. Sherels showed what kind of a return man he can be with his 109-yard kickoff return against Tennessee, but Felder has looked like a capable punt returner, as well, and gives the Vikings another option in the slot if Robinson can't handle the job. The biggest name left off the roster here is safety Mistral Raymond, who was starting early last year but hasn't been able to stay on the field.
A kicker, a punter/holder and a long-snapper. That's all the Vikings need on special teams. They'll have a simple decision to close out their roster.