The business side of professional football is often brutal. The players who perform well are rewarded with rich contracts, while those who fail to live up to expectations are quickly forgotten. For a franchise to stay above water, dozens of these decisions must be made on a yearly basis.
The Minnesota Vikings are a transforming team under second-year head coach Mike Zimmer. They are still trying to find the winning formula and will figure out in the near future which players are not part of that formula. Whether it's the result of an upcoming salary-cap hit, impending free agency or waning impact, some Vikings are under the microscope this year.
The following players are facing a make-or-break season with the Vikings in 2015.
Mike Wallace, wide receiver
The Vikings added a stick of dynamo to their passing offense by trading for Wallace this offseason. If quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can light his fuse, Wallace may be able to reestablish himself as one of the NFL's most dangerous big-play threats. Don't forget: He was a Pro Bowler who averaged 17.2 yards per catch and scored 32 touchdowns with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2009-2012.
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Wallace wasn't as effective the past two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. With frustration boiling over, Wallace couldn't crack the 1,000-yard mark. A new setting could make all the difference for the speedy receiver. And if not, the Vikings can always cut him before the 2016 season and save $11.5 million.
Chad Greenway, linebacker
Although he was a Pro Bowler from 2011-2012, Greenway is no longer the player he was just a few short years ago. Last season, he started showing his age as injuries limited him just 12 games played. He's currently the team's starter on the weak side, but younger linebackers such as Gerald Hodges have a real chance to leap him in camp.
Greenway, a first-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft (17th overall), is one of Minnesota's longest-tenured players. Despite his history with the team, this could be his final season with the Vikings. He had to take a $3.6 million pay cut to stay with the team this offseason, and he'll be 33 years old by the time he reaches free agency next spring.
Robert Blanton, safety
The Vikings already have one stellar safety in Harrison Smith, but they need someone to step up beside him. Blanton will have another chance to do that in 2015. Last year, he started the first 13 games, but a late-season leg injury led to Andrew Sendejo starting the last three games of the season.
Although an interception and over 100 tackles look good in the statbook, Blanton can't afford to lose his grip on the starting job again this season. The former fifth-round pick must fend off Sendejo and second-year pro Antone Exum. If he fails to do so, the team may let him walk during the 2016 free agency period.
Cordarrelle Patterson, wide receiver
Patterson came with explosive expectations when the Vikings selected him in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft (29th overall). So far, they've only seen that potential play out as a kick returner, a service for which he was named All-Pro after his rookie season. As a receiver, Patterson has been painfully unproductive.
After scoring nine total touchdowns as a rookie (four receptions, three rushes and two kick returns), Patterson had only two scores last year. His all-purpose yardage plunged nearly 650 yards, too. If Patterson's sophomore slump slides into his third season, it will be nearly impossible for him to avoid the draft-bust label.
Audie Cole, linebacker
A former seventh-round pick, Cole has been waiting for his chance to start since 2012. He has valiantly fought for a roster spot and earned his opportunity this season. Cole's main competition for the starting middle linebacker job will come from second-round rookie Eric Kendricks.
Cole has played in 34 games over the past three seasons with six career starts. With consistent play in training camp, he can present himself as a more reliable candidate than Kendricks, whose inexperience will lead to rookie mistakes. Cole is in a contract year, so the least he can do is boost his stock in free agency by putting up a good fight for the starting job.
*All salary cap information courtesy of OverTheCap.com.