Vikings Mailbag: Trade Deadline Talkers & OL Development

Photo Courtesy of Minnesota Vikings

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.

I think the easy answer is to say ‘No’ because, well, there just isn’t much faith in this coaching staff right now. But let’s think a little harder than that. First off, consider Zimmer’s track record since joining the Vikings: Oversaw an ascending Teddy Bridgewater who might’ve been limited by Norv Turner’s antiquated offense and got career seasons out of Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins in a four-year span. But it’s also probably unwise to give Zimmer too much credit in those cases when playcallers Pat Shurmur and Kevin Stefanski deserved a bulk of the recognition. The Bridgewater example is telling, though, in that Zimmer seemed to have a really good relationship with the young quarterback and never asked too much of him during his two-plus years as a starter.

Kubiak is the man who’d be working more with a rookie signal-caller, but he doesn’t have a ton of experience working with new draft picks at that position. He worked with an already-developed John Elway and Peyton Manning during his two stints in Denver. His efforts with Matt Schaub were probably the closest case study, since Schaub had only started two career games before joining the Texans in 2007, and Schaub (a former third-round pick) went 40-29 from 2008-12.

Honestly, I don’t hate the idea of giving Zimmer and Kubiak a rookie draft pick, mainly because Zimmer has the capability to reconstruct a really nice defense to support them. But for the sake of entertaining the question, I think I opt for the side of change if I have to pick a side. Give me the Marshall kid Trey Lance and hope he has enough natural talent that the coach is irrelevant.

While Kirk Cousins might have some thoughts about the Vikings going full-on experimentation mode, you’ve got too much youth on the offensive line that needs developing to let veterans eat up their reps — especially those without a meaningful future with the organization.

Riley Reiff has played the best of any Vikings’ lineman, but he’s probably one of your easier players to trade based on his age and contract. Plus, his value will never be higher. This seems like a likelihood. And with all due respect to Dakota Dozier, he is only four spots better than Dru Samia on Pro Football Focus’s guard rankings (Samia is 53rd out of 53; Dozier is 49th). As painful as it’s been to watch Samia this year, he needs the refinement more than Dozier, assuming the team makes a shift toward player development in the latter stages of the season. Dozier wouldn’t be dealt, but he could revert to a backup role.

Cleveland obviously needs to be part of the equation, but where? He’s practiced all across the line, while he and the team have both been non-committal about where he’ll settle in down the road. I’d advocate for Cleveland to take Reiff’s spot in the case of a trade. Left tackle is simply the most valuable position on the line, and if there’s an even a chance that you have an above-average one on your roster, you’ve got to try him out. I’m OK with O’Neill staying at right tackle — why mess with a good thing? Most teams have great rushers on either side of the defensive line anyway.

The wild card in this conversation is Elflein, who hasn’t played in four weeks with a hand injury. Despite the team’s unwavering loyalty to Elflein, it’s hard to imagine he’s part of the future after undergoing two position changes and struggling in pass protection at each position he’s tried. That being said, he’s only 26, he’s a relatively high draft pick, he’s an emotional leader, and he’s good in the run game. But could Elflein ever do enough to coax a multi-year deal out of the Vikings in free agency? That seems unlikely after the rocky tenure he’s had. Nonetheless, it’s more likely than Dozier staying with the Vikings long-term, so I’m playing Elflein at whichever guard spot they don’t play Samia.

If Cousins is truly unsafe behind an offensive line that young, you’ve always got Rashod Hill, Brett Jones and Dozier to step back in.

If by this week you mean within Week 7, I’d say no. It was easier for the Vikings to do business with the Ravens for the Yannick Ngakoue trade since they were on a bye week, too, and now Baltimore will get the maximum service time from Ngakoue who won’t miss a game during his initial COVID-19 tests. At this point, though, most teams have turned their focus to Sunday’s game.

Do I expect the Vikings to sell more in the next 10 days? Yes. I’d be shocked if it were the firesale that some are suggesting, but I think they’ll make moves. As mentioned, Reiff’s value is up right now, and Anthony Harris is probably worth a mid-round pick as well.

“These are always very difficult decisions,” said Spielman about evaluating potential trades. “Part of my responsibility overseeing the football operations is to not only look at the short-term goals but the long-term goals as well.”

After Ngakoue was traded, I eavesdropped into a Twitter argument that found its way into my mentions. Our tweeter Chris was at odds with another user about whether the Vikings looked bad for trading Ngakoue at a lower value than he was acquired.

The biggest unknown is whether the Vikings knew of Danielle Hunter‘s long-term health concerns at the time of the deal on Aug. 30. I’m inclined to believe they did, which Spielman alluded to Thursday while also saying he had hoped the two pass rushers would someday be paired up. It’s believable that the Vikings were assuming the worst with Hunter, even if they held out some faint hope that weeks of rest could get him back on the field mid-season. Under those pretenses, this was a desperation trade, and they paid a desperation price. Zimmer and Spielman had seen the Vikings’ defensive line without Hunter for several weeks and knew they needed more, so they decided to outbid everybody for Ngakoue. Don’t forget that he was highly pursued by several teams. That desperation likely bumped the price to a second-round pick (and conditional fifth) for the Vikings to win the bidding war.

You might ask why the Vikings couldn’t generate the same type of bidding war for Ngakoue and recoup that second-round pick, but mid-season rentals in the NFL are usually a bit depreciated and Ngakoue’s Minnesota tape on a play-to-play basis hasn’t been great. It’s also possible Baltimore was the first to reach out and presented Spielman with a sure thing, and the Vikings GM didn’t want to wait until the deadline and risk losing that offer.

Spielman should probably take some heat for thinking that another pass-rusher was enough to mask the team’s deficiencies in the secondary when he could’ve simply addressed the secondary more thoroughly in the offseason. The fact that Baltimore’s third-round pick will be late in the round, and the Vikings’ second-round pick is shaping up to be early only increases the discrepancy in value. But that second-round pick was a sunk cost. If Spielman had held onto Ngakoue until free agency and lost him then, the Vikings would’ve had to wait until 2022 to receive any compensatory value.

With the benefit of hindsight, the initial trade might’ve been a bit naive to think that Ngakoue could change schemes and make enough of an impact to save the Vikings defense, but there’s also a glass-half-full scenario where the Vikings started 3-3, Hunter returned and Ngakoue improved as the year went on.

This deal ended up being worst-case scenario.

4 Things We Learned From the Vikings Loss to the Cowboys
By Nik Edlund - Nov 24, 2020
Grading The Timberwolves’ Offseason Moves Up To This Point
By Kyle Ratke - Nov 24, 2020
10K Rinks

The Wild Prospects Who Got Away

Photo Courtesy of Minnesota Vikings

Continuing the series in honor of the Wild’s 20th season, this week’s look at Minnesota Wild players past and present comes with some missed opportunities. Last week, […]

Continue Reading