As a Minnesota Vikings fan, there are several dates that stick into your mind that make you feel a sense of darkness. Many of those include past NFC Championship Games, but this franchise is unique in that it can also include several moments that just piss you off.
For me, those dates include the days that the Vikings traded away Percy Harvin and Randy Moss. Both were superstar receivers entering the prime of their careers and both had their off the field issues that made the team want to cash in on their asset. However, both totally affected the franchise in a different way.
The Moss trade went down as one of the biggest blunders in Vikings history. After deciding that Daunte Culpepper would be just fine with Nate Burleson as their top target, Minnesota got rid of the series of bumping into traffic cops and mooning Packer fans and acquired a couple of draft picks and Napoleon Harris. One of those picks turned out to be Troy Williamson, who literally dropped the ball and turned out to be one of the biggest busts in Vikings history. Burleson didn’t pan out, Culpepper blew out his knee and the Vikings were set back five years.
Meanwhile, the Harvin trade went down as one of the best moves in Rick Spielman’s tenure in Minnesota. After attempting to punch Leslie Frazier, who may be the nicest coach in the history of football, in the face and turning numerous three-yard passes from Christian Ponder into ten-yard gains, the Vikings shipped Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks. In that trade, Minnesota acquired another bag of picks including one that became Xavier Rhodes. With one of the top corners in the league, the Vikings were able to build a shutdown defense under Mike Zimmer’s guidance and the Seahawks were stuck with a broken down receiver with a massive contract.
As the Vikings roll into this year’s training camp, they come off the heels of trading another superstar receiver. Stefon Diggs not only is one of the best statistical Vikings of all-time, he has the same connection with the fans that Moss and Harvin had. After a slew of emojis that Zimmer may not have understood, Diggs was shipped out on a plane to Buffalo and it was a sense of deja vu for Vikings fans.
With the Vikings trading their third superstar receiver in 15 years, this one serves as the tiebreaker for such a bold decision. The Diggs trade has its opportunity to carve out its own story and its parallels could turn out to be more in the way it helped the Vikings thrive in the late 2010s or kick off the Brad Childress era with a thud.
Why the Diggs Trade Looks like the harvin Deal
When the Vikings traded Harvin, they were in the midst of rebuilding a team that had hit rock bottom after making the playoffs in 2012. As the 2013 season approached, Harvin saw what many at Winter Park couldn’t see in Ponder’s shortcomings, so he caused a stir, demanded a new contract and was shipped out to Seattle for a 2013 first-round pick, a 2013 seventh-round pick and a 2014 third-round pick.
With that haul, the Vikings selected Rhodes, who developed into one of the top cornerbacks in the league. While the seventh-rounder didn’t turn out, the Vikings scooped up Jerick McKinnon with the third-round pick, who never became more than Adrian Peterson‘s caddy, but was more serviceable than Harvin was with the Seahawks with 23 receptions in six games.
Add in the six-year, $67 million contract the Seahawks gave Harvin upon his acquisition and it’s safe to say that the Vikings won this trade. But even if Diggs doesn’t have the same health issues that Harvin had in his career, there’s a good chance he could be just as big of a bust in Buffalo thanks to his quarterback, Josh Allen.
Many in Buffalo are excited about Allen’s potential after making a huge leap last season, but that’s because the bar was set so low in his rookie year. Allen completed just 52 percent of his passes in 2018 and while he has a bazooka of an arm, there’s no telling where the actual pass will end up.
This is especially true downfield where Allen compiled a 64.4 passer rating on throws 20 yards or more according to Pro Football Focus last season. That number ranked 29th in the NFL and the rest of his stats are a far cry from where Kirk Cousins, who ranked third with a 122.9 passer rating. This also didn’t occur on a small sample either as 14.8% of his passes were of the deep variety, the sixth-highest clip in the league.
Mix in a 30.9 adjusted completion percentage and it’s a matter of when, not if, Diggs will have a sideline meltdown towards his new quarterback, which should tip the scales in favor of the Vikings.
Why the Diggs trade looks like the moss deal
When the Vikings sent Randy Moss to Oakland following the 2004 season, there were massive shoes to fill in their offense. With confidence that Burleson could step up and shoulder part of the load, the Vikings reached in a class that included fellow receiver busts Braylon Edwards, Mike Williams, Matt Jones and Mark Clayton in the first round to take Troy Williamson seventh overall. (Shout out to Roddy White, though.)
The Vikings also got Napoleon Harris and a nondescript seventh-round pick in that draft, but they gave up arguably the best receiver in NFL history for this haul. It’s like trading in a Juicy Lucy for a half-eaten Big Mac.
Despite never being selected for a Pro Bowl, Diggs was one of the NFL’s best receivers last season per PFF.
|Stat||PFF Rank among Qualifying WR|
|PFF Receiving Grade||78.4||20th|
|Yards per Route Run||2.69||2nd|
|20+ Yard Receptions||16||T-1st|
|Yards per Reception||18.0||6th|
Those are the numbers that not only the Vikings will have to replace, but the same numbers that Jefferson will have to live up to. Despite being one of the top prospects in a loaded receiver class, it’s almost unrealistic for Jefferson to make that big of an impact in a rookie season where he hasn’t even met his head coach in person.
Not only will Jefferson have statistical shoes to fill, but he’ll also have to fill an emotional gap, as Diggs was one of the most popular players on the team. Even if things ended poorly, every Vikings fan has some sort of memory or picture in their man cave of Diggs proudly strutting across the goal line in the Minneapolis Miracle. Even with Diggs heading to Buffalo, he’s entrenched in the history of this franchise, which makes Jefferson’s work even tougher.
Much like Diggs and Allen, we have to remember who is throwing Jefferson the ball. Cousins did put up the most efficient season of his career in 2019, but he still lacks the “it” factor that makes you want him to start a must-win game. If Cousins needs perfect protection, picturesque routes, a climate-controlled pocket, and a cabana boy fanning him off to complete a three-yard dump-off to C.J. Ham, is getting rid of a top-five NFL receiver a recipe for success?
Zimmer seems to think so according to his reaction after the Week 4 loss to the Bears. With his mind numbed from continuous demands to run the football into the teeth of the Chicago defense, Diggs skipped practice which led to Zimmer standing up in front of the entire team saying they didn’t need him.
Coincidentally, Mike Tice‘s Vikings didn’t need Moss to survive when they had Burleson and Williamson to cover. He was fired the following offseason. Zimmer is entering the final year of his contract in 2020.
It’s true that Jefferson and Adam Thielen are better than that duo, but like kickers missing important field goals, history has a way of repeating itself. The Vikings are surely betting that it’s on the positive side this time around.