Vikings second-year corner Holton Hill will now be suspended for the first eight games of the season as the NFL tacked on four games for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Hill already faced a four-game penalty for a PED violation. This recent punishment seems to stem from Hill’s involvement in Roc Thomas‘ arrest in January, as Hill was present at the apartment with Thomas when police raided the home back in January. Thomas was suspended and subsequently released.
Hill’s future with the Vikings, however, is not quite as cut-and-dry. There are two factors in play here, pulling at opposite ends of the Vikings’ decision rope. It is true that, despite going undrafted last year, Hill was a solid reserve corner who took a lot of pressure off of the Vikings’ secondary. He was reliable enough to get coverage snaps in stretches and filled in admirably when injuries took hold. Given his impressive combination of size and athleticism, it is not unreasonable to think Hill could be a future starter.
That said, the other end is not so kempt. Hill reportedly faced multiple suspensions at Texas for failed drug tests, though some were kept private. By most accounts, his indiscretions were the only thing preventing him from going day two the day of the draft. Still, many thought he would land around the fourth or fifth round, but alas, maturity concerns dropped him out of the draft completely. He signed with the Vikings and stayed on the straight and narrow in his first year while playing fairly well. But now he has seen two drug-related suspensions in the span of a few months. Clearly, he has not left his past behind him.
The easy answer is to cut ties and hope another change of scenery will spark some better decision-making for Hill. He is not currently a starter and will rank no higher than fifth on the depth chart. Plus, the Vikings drafted a couple defensive backs to fill in gaps, including Hill’s former teammate Kris Boyd. In other words, Hill is not essential personnel for 2019.
But the business of player decisions is not as simple as that. Minnesota is solid at corner this year, sure. Going forward, however, is a much different story. Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander could both sign elsewhere next year. Xavier Rhodes’ trajectory is in question after a down 2018. Mike Hughes is coming off knee surgery. That is a lot of question marks surrounding not just depth, but starters moving forward. When Hill played last year, he showed strong upside with surprising polish for an undrafted player. As such, his could be a talent worth the risk, especially if no other young defensive back shows starter potential.
Plus, at least from a roster perspective, retaining Hill in 2019 is low-risk, high-reward. He can take part in all team activities during preseason to continue development. Then, once cuts take place, he will not count against the 53-man roster until week nine. Maybe Boyd or Marcus Epps play enough to make Hill less worth the risk. Or maybe that time provides evidence that Hill is more invested in staying clean. Or maybe Hill takes the eight weeks as an opportunity to get into more trouble. In that case, obviously, the Vikings would be plenty justified in cutting ties. The point is that keeping their hands off the release valve makes more sense. At least, it does for now.
One question that must be asked in all of this is how retaining Hill would impact the locker room. And frankly, it is impossible to say right now. Both suspensions no doubt irked his teammates, as availability is the best ability. But at the same time, players tend to embrace those who help bring wins. Hill was a valuable piece last year, and should he stay on the field, could prove to be more valuable over time. As long as he is not a pariah in the locker room, team chemistry does not have to be an issue.
Overall, while the optics of retaining a multi-time offending depth piece may not be great, the chances of it biting the Vikings in any real sense is pretty low. For now, the best move is simply to wait out his suspension and make a decision when the time comes.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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