At the beginning of the NFL season, many teams are optimistic and gearing up for successful seasons. Some have super bowl aspirations, others are expected to make deep playoff runs, many enter the season with coaches or players in the hot seat – but all of them want to win. With so many teams desiring competitiveness, it can be hard for a single team to address their weaknesses amongst so many other parties sharing a pool of professional athletes. Thus, it is rare for teams to make roster moves in August. This changes when unexpected events occur.
The Minnesota Vikings are no stranger to sudden, league altering moves occurring in August. It was only a few years ago that starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic knee injury that dramatically altered the landscape of the NFL. With Bridgewater gone, the Vikings were forced to make a move or abandon the competitive NFC playoff race before the season even started. They responded boldly, trading a first round pick for their new starting quarterback Sam Bradford. When pushed into the fire, the Vikings don’t shy away from making their team competitive.
An equally rare and shocking event occurred yesterday with the sudden retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck. A highly competitive Indianapolis Colts team is now without their best player. Unlike the Vikings post-Bridgewater, the Colts are in no position to push for a Super Bowl run without their star quarterback. Their supporting cast just isn’t built well enough to field a championship team. Indianapolis is run by a very smart General Manager in Chris Ballard. Ballard has a penchant for drafting well. He selected two All-Pros in 2018 – guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard. Ballard now looks to have a strong incoming class of rookies headlined by cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and wide receiver Parris Campbell. Ballard knows he can build his team through the draft, and he should also know that this team cannot win in 2019.
To rebuild, Ballard and the Colts need to acquire more draft capital by selling off players who can immediately help other teams this year.
This is where the Vikings step in, fully in a championship window with quarterback Kirk Cousins on the second year of his three year contract. Minnesota wants to win now, and they need to win with all the investments they have made in 2019. General manager Rick Spielman acted aggressively and kept his team competitive in 2016, and he should remain aggressive this year. Trading some draft capital for players who can make an immediate impact makes too much sense. Trading for kicker Kaare Vedvik is an example of this aggressiveness and the mentality of a team that is all-in.
In a world where the Vikings are as aggressive as possible, they make a move for the Colts’ second best offensive player.
Welcome to Minnesota, T. Y. Hilton – you’ll be playing alongside Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen this year.
Acquiring Hilton would require a large commitment and large payment by the Vikings, as well as the Colts’ willingness to move on from one of the faces of their franchise. With the Vikings still searching for a third wide receiver, the move immediately reshape a Vikings offense that is struggling to find its footing in the preseason.
In a less aggressive move, the Vikings could address another area of need. The weakest spot on Minnesota’s defense is on the defensive line with the departure of Sheldon Richardson.
Bringing defensive lineman Denico Autry into the fold provides the Vikings with an immediate improvement to their pass rush, something that is needed in the NFC North.
His ability to hit the quarterback, which he did eleven times in twelve games last year, adds another star to the Vikings defense. Don’t worry about cap space, Autry has a relatively low hit of $4.8 million this year, which means the Vikings can add him without making any cap movements.
Lastly, they could make a go at a position that’s bothered them the most in recent years.
Anthony Castonzo, the Colts’ left tackle, has one year left on his deal.
While he is still playing at a high level, he isn’t likely to help the Colts past this year. With Andrew Luck departed and the Colts trying to rebuild their team, it makes the most sense to sell a guy like Castonzo for future assets.
Again, the Vikings need not worry about cap space. Castonzo will carry an $11.05 million cap hit this year, just under the $11.75 million Minnesota would save by cutting starting left tackle Riley Reiff. The Vikings would actually save a bit of money with this move and solidify the offensive line in the process. The Vikings could further lower Catonzo’s cap hit by giving him an extension, pushing some of his cap impact into future years while securing a solid left tackle for that time. Since week one of the 2018 season the Vikings have completely retooled their offensive line. Brian O’Neill is now starting at right tackle, Josh Kline and Garrett Bradbury were added in the offseason, and Pat Elflien moved to guard. Making a trade for a left tackle – like Anthony Castonzo – is the final piece. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Minnesota Vikings make another transaction to protect quarterback Kirk Cousins.