Vikings Mailbag: Deadline Trades, Best DL Rotation & Virtual Reality

Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson (USA Today Sports)

For years the listeners of our Football Machine Vikings podcast have sent in amazing Twitter questions, and far too often we’ve had to leave many of them on the cutting room floor because of time. No longer! Each week we’ll pull some questions that didn’t make the cut and address them in this space.

The Vikings are about to play their penultimate game before the Nov. 3 trade deadline, and Sunday’s outcome could have a massive influence on how the front office approaches it.

Rick Spielman has never been a major seller at the deadline during his six-and-a-half year partnership with Mike Zimmer. His biggest splash might’ve come in 2015 when the team was set to give Eric Kendricks a starting linebacker spot, so they dealt Gerald Hodges for a sixth-round pick and Nick Easton, a future starter on the offensive line. But Spielman and Zimmer also haven’t been 1-5 with a handful of tradeable veterans under big contracts. A loss to Atlanta puts the Vikings four games below the .500 mark with a game at Green Bay facing them after the bye, so 1-6 is a possibility.

Reiff is a fascinating trade piece. He currently has the best pass-blocking grade of his career and is playing on a cheaper contract thanks to a preseason restructure. His value may never be higher. Plus, the Vikings appear to have his eventual replacement on the roster in Ezra Cleveland. If Cleveland wasn’t ready to slot in at left tackle immediately, Rashod Hill is a more-than-capable backup that the Vikings were comfortable using this year if Reiff had declined his pay reduction. Would it hurt to lose one of your best pass-blockers? Of course. But if you’re about recouping maximum value on a 31-year-old, this is the season to do so.

The problem is that left tackles don’t get moved around much at the deadline because of how complex offensive line schemes are. While the trade deadline has produced some of the splashiest mid-season trades in history over the past few seasons, most have been for skill players and pass-rushers, who have a shorter adjustment period. There was, however, a high profile tackle traded in 2017 if you’re looking for a comparison. Thirty-two-year-old Duane Brown got shipped along with a fifth-round pick from the Houston Texans to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for a third-rounder and a future second-rounder. Brown had a better reputation than Reiff as a player, but he’d also held out in Houston and missed the team’s first six games, so there was still some risk involved.

Ideally, a Reiff deal could help the Vikings regain the second-round pick they gave up in the Yannick Ngakoue trade, but if not, a pair of third- or fourth-round picks could be in the cards. Would there be any suitors, though? Perhaps in the NFC East, where an underwhelming division race is up for grabs. It’s possible the Eagles would be in need after losing Andre Dillard for the year and dealing with injuries to tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, but they’re also facing a brutal 2021 cap situation and may not want to introduce Reiff’s cap hit. Dallas has a bit more flexibility financially, just lost Tyron Smith for the season and is sitting on extra third- and fourth-round picks. Hmmm.

We tackled the offensive line half of this question on the latest Football Machine podcast, but I saved the defensive line portion for this mailbag.

At defensive end, Ngakoue needs to be in the mix because the Vikings have to decide whether he is worth a sizable investment. It’s not out of the question the Vikings let him walk for a good compensatory pick, but a future with Ngakoue and Danielle Hunter remains appealing. With the benefit of hindsight, though, the trade for Ngakoue ostensibly came from a place of desperation (think the Sam Bradford trade) based on the info we now know about Hunter’s neck. The Vikings knew they’d be punchless at pass rusher without a better option, so they used draft capital to make a splash.

At the other end spot I’d split reps between Ifeadi Odenigbo and D.J. Wonnum. The jury’s still out whether Odenigbo is part of the future, but fortunately for the Vikings they won’t need to make a concrete decision this offseason. Odenigbo is shaping up to be a second-round RFA tender, which will likely cost the Vikings under $4 million. Wonnum has started eating into Odenigbo’s reps and has the glisten of Andre Patterson’s seal of approval. He’s a perfect developmental piece to be playing, even though his PFF grades are poor. I’m less enthused about Jalyn Holmes, whose analytics are just as poor as Wonnum’s with two more years of experience and only one year left on his contract.

The answer at tackle is fairly obvious: More James Lynch and more Armon Watts. Jaleel Johnson is likely out of here after 2020, and Shamar Stephen is entering a contract year with a very cuttable contract. Watts had his reps cut after struggling the first two games but has played better in recent weeks, and his pressure helped Lynch record his first career sack last Sunday. Maybe that’s a partnership to watch for the future.

Believe it or not, this is already a thing. The Vikings have cameras set up behind the line of scrimmage at practice that allow their players — and especially quarterbacks — to relive the play virtually after the fact. Case Keenum notably used this in 2017 as a form of game prep and logged over 2,500 reps.

Players are getting fewer and fewer practice reps these days to enhance player safety, so virtual reality will only get more prevalent.

Considering that 24 (!) NFL head coaches were hired in 2017 or later, it’s a testament to Zimmer’s consistency that he’s still around and recently extended. I think his track record of winning 60% of games without Hall of Fame quarterback play makes him an outlier amongst his other long-tenured peers.

Zimmer isn’t required to take as much responsibility for the team’s offensive inconsistencies because he’s a defensive coach, but for that reason, the inevitable revolving door at offensive coordinator has had a greater impact on the team’s carousel of quarterbacks.

Ultimately, Zimmer will be judged on how effective he is rebuilding the Vikings defense, since that will presumably correlate closely with the team’s win total. The further in the tank they go this season, the hotter his seat will be in 2021. The Wilfs have exhibited immense patience as an ownership group, however, and are more interested in evaluating an overall body of work than giving their head coach a quick hook.

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