Oddly Enough, Lewis Cine Could be the Vikings’ Most Likely Trade Candidate

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Not dressing Lewis Cine in Week 6 says a fair bit.

For a Vikings team that’s subjecting itself to a painful rebuild on defense, Cine being left completely out of a must-win game is telling. No matter what Kevin O’Connell says, the Vikings simply don’t have very much confidence in the sophomore safety. The NFL truly is a place where actions speak louder than words, so Cine’s ongoing tumble down the depth chart is revelatory.

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While he’s still young (he’s 24) and has a ton of upside, one wonders about Minnesota’s plans for the safety. Andrew Booth Jr. actually got back onto the field for Minnesota in Week 6 but his counterpart from the 2022 NFL Draft found himself on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Would the Vikings actually consider moving on from Lewis Cine in a trade?

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Every NFL GM loves acquiring high-upside talent on a cost-controlled deal. Every NFL coach likes to think he’s the one who’s capable of unlocking untapped potential. That combination has combined to fuel any number of trades. Just think of Jalen Reagor and Ross Blacklock joining the Vikings before last season.

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Giving up on a 1st-round selection after a bit more than a season is almost always a bad move. Again, though, we think about the basic facts sitting in front of us: Cine has been involved in 2 defensive snaps since being picked 32nd overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Obviously, much of the issue flows from injury troubles. A broken leg in Week 4 of last season ended his rookie year. During the summer months, Vikings coaches were quick to send praise in Cine’s direction because of the player’s commitment to attacking his rehab. The admiration he has garnered for that stubborn, admirable work ethic hasn’t translated to an on-field job, though.

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So far, Cine has only picked up 38 special teams snaps for 2023, playing in just three games. Some of the missed time is due to a different injury but last week’s absence was a simple decision to sit a healthy player.

Consider what Kevin O’Connell had to say when asked about his young defender:

Lew has been, he’s been working his way back from that hamstring injury, and we feel good about him being at full capacity here and hope to get him going a little bit. My anticipation is he’ll be up and ready to roll this week and maybe taking on some roles at gunner, having some things on defense. Whatever that looks like, we’ll work through that, but yeah, Lew is, you know, there’s a lot of ways to describe a healthy scratch when a guy is working himself back, and then the roles you envision for him for that game. Lew knows we have a 100-percent confidence in him, and I think we’ll see his role continue to evolve and grow throughout the season

If, in the end, Cine gets worked back into the mix on specials before seeing some increased opportunity for Brian Flores, then the trade chatter will be misguided. The Vikings will have chosen the more common path, holding onto their highly-drafted player with the patient expectation that he’ll take steps toward fulfilling his potential.

O’Connell’s words, though, can sometimes flirt with meaninglessness. Just think about the head coach’s proclamations about wanting to be more multiple on offense as the Vikings feature the running backs. The on-field reality then directly contradicts what O’Connell said, prompting some to dismiss the promises as being essentially meaningless. Again, actions speaking louder than words.

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Josh Metellus is the future at safety for the Minnesota Vikings. The extension before the season confirmed as much. Camryn Bynum’s high-level play puts him on a collision course for his own extension, meaning the Vikings get to build their safety room around a pair of versatile 25 year olds. Making things even more crowded is the presence of Jay Ward (who is 23) and Theo Jackson (who just turned 25). Both have played in every game this season and both are above Cine on the depth chart.

And, of course, we shouldn’t totally omit Harrison Smith from the conversation. True, he’s 34, so his Vikings lifetime is closer to the end than the beginning. And, to be sure, his nearly $20 million cap charge for 2024 cannot stand untouched. Put simply, The Hitman won’t be staying around at his current price point. Even if he does get cut, though, the Vikings are sitting on four safeties — Metellus, Bynum, Ward, and Jackson — whom they feel strongly about.

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Will Cine be kept around as safety #5? If there’s an attractive offer on the table, will Kwesi Adofo-Mensah decide to accept?

The 1st-round selection that was used on Cine is a sunk cost. Nothing the Vikings do in the present moment can undo the cost of acquisition. What may still occur, though, is a trade from the team’s GM to try to regain some value for the safety, especially since there’s been an effort to keep piling up picks for the 2024 draft.

A lot of teams had a high grade on Lewis Cine going into last year’s draft. He’s long, physical, fast, and a very hard worker. Coming out of a major college program is simply another reason to be hopeful about what he can offer. The question the Vikings are trying to answer is whether Cine’s opportunity to fulfill his potential will be in Minnesota or elsewhere.

A change of scenery — no pun intended — may be what Cine needs to get his game to the next level.

The NFL’s trade deadline arrives on Halloween. Interested readers can learn more about Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s full trade history on PurplePTSD.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.