The Minnesota Vikings came into the trade deadline with rumors of a fire sale and walked out with…nothing. As part of a deadline that produced cricket noises across the NFL, the Vikings were one of many teams that decided to keep what they have and forge ahead through the final half of the 2020 season.
On the surface, the decision to stand pat looks like another last-gasp effort at an ill-fated playoff push. At 2-5, the chances of the Vikings sneaking to the final spot in the NFC looks like a long shot. But diving into it more, their decision to stand pat seems like the right one to make at this moment.
Coming into the deadline, fans had prepared to say their final goodbyes to several players. For a generation that mashed on Madden NFL’s franchise mode, the thought of cashing these veterans in for a slew of draft picks seemed appealing. Alas, none of them were going to draw the multiple first-rounders you could get on your PS4 or Xbox.
Instead, teams were reluctant to part with their draft picks for several reasons per MMQB’s Albert Breer.
First, the current landscape of the league has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams could be dealing with a lower salary cap in 2021, which makes investing in veterans on expiring deals a risky idea. Instead of coughing up a second-day draft pick to acquire someone like Anthony Harris or Riley Reiff, teams would rather acquire the younger, cheaper talent in next year’s draft and hope for the best.
Even in those scenarios, both Harris and Reiff could be retained for 2021. Reiff is still under contract for next season (albeit at a $13.5 million cap hit) and Harris has seen his play dip to the point he could be affordable for the Vikings to offer him an extension next season. Even if he walks, they could let him sign with another team and cash in a compensatory pick in 2022.
Of course, any potential deal would have to make sense for the team that’s acquiring these players. For a team that’s in contention, acquiring the best players from a 2-5 team doesn’t sound like someone who can provide an immediate upgrade.
This scenario includes veterans Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith. Both players have produced at an elite level during their time in Minnesota, but they’re both over the age of 30. With Father Time poised to strike at any moment, their huge salaries and draft pick compensation don’t seem worth it thanks to a strong draft class coming in 2021.
Instead, teams will rely on what they have in a season that doesn’t have a clear playoff plan. If the NFL were to adopt the 16-team playoff model that was proposed this week, the addition of an eighth playoff team in each conference opens the door for teams to sneak in. This means that the team that claims the eighth seed is in the dance with what they have and doesn’t need an upgrade to get into the playoffs.
For a team like the Vikings, that has them looking toward 2021 even if their moves on deadline day didn’t signal it. Even if they keep their potential trade chips, the Vikings can still move these players during the offseason when they’re not at risk of being fleeced at a deadline. Rick Spielman did this perfectly with Stefon Diggs last season, keeping him at the deadline and waiting until a team gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse — which the Buffalo Bills did.
The Vikings didn’t take a giant leap toward the future on Tuesday, and that’s OK. While it will make some people roll their eyes, they can do better in the coming months. If waiting produces a better deal, it will make for a more exciting future.