The Vikings Wouldn't Have To Finish Dead Last To Get Caleb Williams

Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Sports

The calendar year 2023 has been anything but kind to the Minnesota Vikings. Since January 1, they have dropped six of eight games. Their two wins? Last season’s Week 18 victory against the worst team in all of football, the Chicago Bears, and a Week 4 win this season against the NFL’s lone winless team, the Carolina Panthers. Sunday’s loss to the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs plummets the Vikings to 1-4, and the conversations surrounding this team are starting to get more difficult. To make matters worse, a hamstring injury forced Justin Jefferson to miss almost the entire fourth quarter. On Monday Kevin O’Connell said that there’s no timetable for Jefferson’s return, and the Vikings just put him on injured reserve.

Whoa boy.

With Bears week coming up, the ugly truth of this Vikings’ season (at least for media and fans) has shifted to a place that no one inside TCO Performance Center expected it to. There’s an argument to be made that the loser of Week 6’s contest at Soldier Field could be better off in the long run. Because the loser on Sunday is that much closer to being in the pole position to land USC Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Caleb Williams in the 2024 draft.

To be perfectly clear, neither the Bears or Vikings are tanking — at least not yet. However, Jefferson will miss the next four weeks, so the chances of Minnesota turning their season around only get slimmer. Not to mention that the trade deadline is a mere three weeks away.

Are the Vikings the worst team in the NFL? Probably not. But they don’t necessarily need to fully entrench themselves in the Caleb Williams sweepstakes.

A pair of marquee quarterbacks didn’t hesitate to exercise their leverage when they entered the league. In 1983, John Elway was adamant about playing anywhere but with the Baltimore Colts, who owned the No. 1-overall pick. After being selected in the second round of the 1981 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees, Elway threatened to sign with the Yankees and play baseball if Baltimore didn’t adhere to his demands.

But when the 1983 draft rolled around, the Colts didn’t hesitate to hand in their card with John Elway, Quarterback, Stanford written on it. Elway was predictably less than thrilled, but Baltimore knew they’d still be willing to maximize Elway’s value by trading him that same day. The Denver Broncos came calling and acquired Elway in exchange for offensive tackle Chris Hinton (Denver’s fourth-overall pick), their 1984 first-round pick, and quarterback Mark Herrmann.

The 2004 NFL Draft wasn’t much different. Consensus No. 1-overall pick Eli Manning was openly protesting being selected first overall by the San Diego Chargers. Although Manning didn’t have the baseball leverage that Elway once had, he and his father, Archie Manning, were telling anybody and everybody that they didn’t want to be in San Diego. But that didn’t stop the Chargers from selecting Manning once they were on the clock. But, like in 1983, the Chargers were just flexing their own leverage by maximizing Manning’s trade value. After the New York Giants selected Philip Rivers fourth overall, the trade finally happened. San Diego sent Manning to the Giants for Rivers, New York’s third-round pick in 2004, and its first- and fifth-round picks in 2005.

It’s worth revisiting Elway and Eli Manning because Caleb Williams’ father has already said that Williams might not declare for the upcoming draft.

The funky thing about the NFL draft process is, he’d almost be better off not being drafted than being drafted first. The system is completely backwards. The way the system is constructed, you go to the worst possible situation. The worst possible team, the worst organization in the league — because of their desire for parity — gets the first pick. So it’s the gift and the curse.

I’ve talked to Archie Manning — his career was shot because he went to a horrible organization. I’ve talked to Lincoln [Riley], and Kyler [Murray] struggled because of where he was drafted. Baker [Mayfield] struggled mightily because of where he was drafted. The organizations matter.

That sure sounds like the father of a decorated quarterback who is already gearing up to play the leverage card, especially if he’s already come out publicly by saying that he’s spoken with Archie Manning. No one outside of Caleb Williams’ immediate circle actually knows how the USC quarterback feels about the respective situations of the current crop of NFL stinkers — which includes the Vikings. But comparing each situation of the teams that are jockeying (intentionally or not) for the No. 1-overall pick, Minnesota’s situation blows everyone else’s out of the water.

Any quarterback who gets dropped into Minnesota’s current ecosystem will have the luxury of the 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year in Jefferson, a Pro Bowl tight end in T.J. Hockenson, a pair of Pro Bowl tackles in Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill, and Williams’ former USC teammate Jordan Addison as his WR2. Not to mention that they’d be playing for a young, offensive-minded head coach who once played quarterback in the NFL. They also have the friendly confines of slinging the pill indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Bears, Broncos, New England Patriots, Giants, and Arizona Cardinals can’t even come remotely close to matching that. It’s hard to imagine that Williams can’t come to the same conclusion on his own.

As Bill Parcells once said, You are what your record says you are. Therefore, the Vikings are a bad football team right now. But they’re not No. 1-overall pick in the draft bad. At least not yet. And that’s not an immediate disqualification from the Williams sweepstakes. If the Vikings can hover around the top-five of the upcoming draft, they’ll be well within striking distance to make their grandiose move for Williams — As long as the star USC quarterback implements the same playbook Elway and Eli Manning authored.

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Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Sports

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