Recently, former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes appeared on the Geary & Stein Sports Show to announce that he was planning to retire.
“It’s open, but I’m not really exploring anything, to be honest with you,” Waynes said. “Multiple teams have actually called. Honestly, in my head, I’m done. I’m not officially doing it just because I don’t give a (expletive). But I’m retired, but it’s not like I announced it or anything.”
The former first-round pick had signed a three-year, $42 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2020 offseason. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Waynes only appeared in five regular-season games in two seasons. He played in all four of Cincinnati’s playoff games, but they mostly relegated him to special teams.
The announcement, much like most of Waynes’ career, ultimately felt ho-hum. He wasn’t a bust. He was Minnesota’s best-tackling cornerback in his second season. But he never lived up to the hype of being the 11th player taken in the draft.
After the Vikings used him almost exclusively on special teams during his rookie season, Waynes broke into the starting lineup in 2016. He had highs and lows early on. In the Vikings’ Week 2 matchup against the Packers, Waynes got picked on all night.
However, the Vikings clung to a 17-14 lead as Aaron Rodgers tried to lead one of his classic comebacks. With 1:56 to go in the game, Waynes intercepted Rodgers on the left sideline. It felt like the turning point in Waynes’ young NFL career.
Over the next six weeks, though, Mike Zimmer took Waynes out of the starting lineup. He only got over half of the total defensive snaps twice in these six games. Waynes would re-enter the starting lineup in Week 10, and he wouldn’t relinquish the spot during the rest of his five-year career in Minnesota.
Waynes played 79 games in Minnesota and started 57. He intercepted seven passes in the regular season and added another in the playoffs. He was a pretty solid CB2 during this time, helping the Vikings boast the league’s No. 1-ranked defense in 2017.
As a whole, though, fans never warmed to Waynes. He was a quiet player, not unlike many of his teammates during the Zimmer era. He never showed a personality that endeared him to fans. That isn’t a huge issue for a Marcus Sherels-type player who climbs the depth chart. But when a player is a first-round talent, fans expect a Pro Bowler. For example, Harrison Smith is quiet, but fans love him because he is a force on the field. Waynes was never that guy.
Part of the reason why Waynes didn’t look good, though, was that fellow cornerback Xavier Rhodes was a borderline shutdown corner from 2015 to 2017. Because quarterbacks feared Rhodes, they focused on and attacked Waynes. Often, Waynes would be a step late to break up a pass. Other times, he failed to turn his head to make a play on the ball. When fans watch a game and see a player get beat repeatedly, the player becomes a punchline, whether that is fair or not.
It also didn’t help Waynes that the Kansas City Chiefs took Marcus Peters seven spots after him. Everyone knew how talented Peters was heading into the draft. Unfortunately, character issues plagued him, pushing him down many teams’ draft boards.
The Chiefs took Peters with the 18th-overall pick, and he immediately made his presence felt. He started all 16 games as a rookie, intercepting eight passes, including two pick-sixes. Peters was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named Defensive Rookie Of the Year.
Peters would last only three seasons in Kansas City, even though he received first-team All-Pro honors in 2016 and had 19 interceptions during his tenure. A combination of on- and off-field incidents led to him getting suspended late in the 2017 season, and the Chiefs traded Peters to the Los Angeles Rams.
Peters has had a short shelf life everywhere he has gone in his career. However, there is no disputing his talent and production. Had the Vikings selected him instead of Waynes, they would have potentially had the best 1-2 cornerback combination in the NFL from 2015 to 2017.
As we hate to remember, the Vikings made it to the NFC Championship in 2017. Could Peters’ tenacity and ball skills have been the missing piece the team needed to go to the Super Bowl that year? Even at the expense of some dumb penalties throughout the season? Maybe.
Instead of three chaotic, productive years from Peters, the Vikings got five decent seasons from Waynes. It was a safe move that didn’t blow up in their faces. But it wasn’t necessarily a pick that hit. Look at it this way: Waynes, the 11th-overall selection, took a year and a half to take the starting cornerback job from Terence Newman, 38, who the Vikings brought in to serve as his mentor.
It appears that Trae Waynes’ NFL career will be coming to an end. His comments reflect the quiet, nonchalant attitude we have grown to see from him. That doesn’t make him a bad guy, but it feels like a fitting end to his career.