Minnesota Vikings fans have enjoyed a tradition that has been established over the past decade. It has outlasted the SKOL chant, but it isn’t as old as singing “SKOL Vikings.” It’s been here longer than Kirk Cousins but hasn’t outlived Minnesota’s history of playoff failures.
It comes every Sunday right around the first quarter when Adam Thielen makes his first reception of the game. Vikings fans sit in their favorite recliner, lean forward, point to the TV like the Leonardo DiCaprio meme, and say, “He’s from Minnesota!”
Unfortunately, that time may be coming to an end. With Thielen likely having to decide on taking a hometown discount, Vikings fans may have trouble identifying their favorite homegrown player. With due apologies to C.J. Ham and Ryan Connelly, there isn’t much to choose from unless they acquire a player this offseason.
Trey Lance is the perfect player to bridge that gap. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback had a similar rise to Thielen. He honed his craft on the fields of Marshall, P.J. Fleck recruited him to play safety, and he became a top quarterback prospect at North Dakota State. However, his fairy tale seems to have ended after the Niners took him with the third-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Michael Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the 49ers are set on having Brock Purdy as their future quarterback and that Lance could be available for as little as a third-round pick. The Vikings should be interested in this opportunity, but it goes beyond any homegrown marketing campaign.
That’s because the future of Minnesota’s quarterback position is unsettled. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said last week that he expects Kirk Cousins to return as a starter in 2023, but he will be entering his age-34 season. We saw with Thielen how quickly age can affect a player, and not having a potential successor could leave the Vikings without a safety net.
This is where Lance can solve the problem. At 6’4″, 224 lbs., Lance looks like a prototypical starting quarterback in today’s NFL. He has a bazooka for an arm and is mobile enough to extend a play or pick up a chunk of yardage on the ground. It’s why the 49ers traded three first-round picks to select Lance in the draft. But why hasn’t that promise shown up on the field?
A lot of it has to do with his situation.
The 49ers have excellent infrastructure for a quarterback. Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are top-tier wide receivers. George Kittle is the best tight end in the NFL not named Travis Kelce. The Niners’ offensive line is a house, and Kyle Shanahan’s running scheme can turn the running back at your local community college into a Pro Bowler.
But Lance’s development hasn’t gone according to plan. The Niners slated him to sit behind Jimmy Garoppolo for the entire 2022 season, but he was forced into a pair of starts. A 57.5% competition rate, five touchdowns, and two interceptions aren’t bad numbers for a project rookie, but they’re better, considering Lance broke his pinky during the final weeks of the preseason.
Also, take into account the phrase “project rookie.” Lance was a star and a toolsy prospect coming out of NDSU, but he was extremely raw and needed reps to reach his potential.
Lance got plenty of work. He scored 42 total touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception while leading the Bison to the FCS National Championship in 2019. But in 2020, he only played in one exhibition game due to the COVID-19 pandemic and spent most of last season behind Garoppolo.
It didn’t help that Lance also played for the NFL’s version of Andy from Toy Story. Shanahan has pounded the table for Joe Williams, traded up for Trey Sermon, and even benched 2020 first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk for poor practice habits last season.
Even as Lance was getting all of the reps in training camp, the 49ers kept Garoppolo on standby, just in case Lance screwed up or wasn’t the player they thought they were getting. Lance played in two games this season, one of which came during a monsoon against the Chicago Bears and a Week 2 game against the Seattle Seahawks where he broke his leg in the first quarter.
Put it all together, and Lance has played in 26 meaningful games since graduating from high school in 2018. By comparison, Purdy was a four-year starter at Iowa State and started 48 games for the Cyclones before being selected with the final pick of the 2022 draft.
So if playing time would be the issue, what would be different in Minnesota? For starters, it would be a possible solution for the Vikings’ quarterback dilemma.
The Vikings are pretty much locked into Cousins for 2023 after they signed him to an extension with a no-trade clause last March. If they wanted to move on, they would have to trade Cousins and find a stopgap starter out of a free-agent class headlined by 45-year-old Tom Brady, draft busts Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, and Garoppolo.
Even if the Vikings wanted to trade up in the draft to acquire a quarterback with Lance’s tools, they only have four picks, making a deal to land someone like Anthony Richardson unlikely. That could mean Minnesota’s best chance to draft a quarterback would be taking a Kellen Mond-type prospect in the third round.
If that’s the case, they’re better off taking a flier on Lance. The Vikings’ offense would undergo major changes if they let Thielen and Dalvin Cook go. However, Lance would still have the infrastructure needed to succeed with Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson as top targets and Kevin O’Connell on the sidelines.
This could also allow the Vikings to let Cousins play out the final year of his deal, turn the reins over to Lance in 2024, or look for a replacement if things don’t turn out. It’s not a fool-proof way to find a franchise quarterback, but it’s the type of swing the Vikings haven’t taken since they signed Cousins in 2018.
There’s the added bonus of having a new Minnesotan whose jersey Vikings fans can wear. Hometown stories don’t always work as well as Thielen’s, but if the Vikings take a risk to acquire Lance, they could wind up with a new one.