What Does It Take to Tank for Caleb?

2024 NFL Mock Draft
Jan 2, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) walks off the field after the game against the Tulane Green Wave in the 2023 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tanking is a strategy that the NFL doesn’t like since throwing away games and seasons goes against the integrity of the sport. However, some teams still do it. Not by intentionally losing games but by trimming the roster down to a virtual practice squad to have a team that is unlikely to win. It happens every year. Teams that are out of contention trade away their top guys for peanuts halfway through the year and they enter the season with a questionable roster to begin with.

What Does It Take to Tank for Caleb?

The Vikings are fresh off a 13-4 campaign. Head coach Kevin O’Connell brought a positive culture to the organization in his first year and is a promising leader for years to come. If the Vikings go the route of trying to lose games, that culture would be ruined but they would receive a top pick in the draft in exchange. Quarterback Caleb Williams is viewed as a generational quarterback.

What Does It Take to Tank for Caleb?
Jan 2, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) in action during the game between the USC Trojans and the Tulane Green Wave in the 2023 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Tanking rarely works, as franchise-changing players are rare, and even those are hard to find. Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Aaron Donald, and Aaron Rodgers didn’t go first overall in their drafts. Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff did. Some folks still claim that a first-overall pick is a thing to aim for, so we’ll go with that premise. The Vikings now have the goal to draft first overall in the 2024 NFL draft. What does it take to achieve that and who of the core players can they keep?

Trade Kirk Cousins

It is very late in the process but there could still be a suitor for the four-time Pro Bowler. Cousins provides a solid floor for every team, as he is a trustworthy player at the most important position in football.

His usual 30 TDs and 4,000 yards are too good to stink. He has to go.

The Vikings must go with either backup Nick Mullens or just hand the keys to rookie Jaren Hall, a player who is unlikely to be ready to suit up for the NFL anytime soon. But remember, the goal is to have the league’s worst team, so bad is actually good.

Trade Danielle Hunter

The star defender is unsatisfied with his current contract which pays him only $5.5 million in 2023 and expires after the season. For that reason, he has been rumored as a trade candidate for quite a while.

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Hunter, of course, is the Vikings’ top defender and could be a reason why the defense doesn’t completely fall apart in 2023. The pass rush was the lone bright spot of the 2022 unit and the Vikings could take that away by also trading Hunter after already dealing Za’Darius Smith to the Browns earlier in the offseason.

Fellow pass rusher Marcus Davenport is under contract for only one season and could also bring in some draft capital. There is no reason to keep him. It would be D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones.

Shut Down Brian O’Neill and Other Injured Players

Right tackle Brian O’Neill’s 2022 season ended prematurely when he suffered a partially torn Achilles tendon in the Week 17 loss against the Packers. It remains to be seen if he is healthy enough to play anytime soon but in our tank scenario, there’s no reason to even consider playing him.

A Vikings Stalwart
Oct 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) warms up before the game against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings should put him on IR or just keep him out and play backup Oli Udoh instead – or even better, 2022 draft pick Vederian Lowe. And the same should be done with all starters who suffer minor injuries. If Justin Jefferson strains his hamstring in Week 4 and the Vikings want to be bad anyway, there’s no reason for them to play him. Of course, that puts an end to some of his records and a pause to his stardom which is one of the significant downsides of that strategy.

Let the Young Guys Play

Because winning is not the goal, the Vikings can start every young and promising player. Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth, Mekhi Blackmon, Jaquelin Roy, and so on should all be starters in Week 1 no matter if they are ready or not.

Inexperienced players are always prone to make mistakes. Those are unacceptable if the objective is to win games but it is not. They can collect some important experiences for future tasks and unintentionally help the Vikes lose games.

Make Sure the Stars Are on Board

If Justin Jefferson wants out after the season, the campaign was a failure even if it lands the organization a star quarterback. So he must be on board with throwing away a valuable season in the prime of his career and ultimately still agree to a contract extension.

Fired up a No
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) in action during the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The same can be said about Christian Darrisaw. Both the left tackle and the wide receiver are the top two building blocks of the franchise and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah needs them to commit to the project long-term before wasting the 2023 season and having two disgruntled stars as a result. If they are not willing to endure a disastrous 2023, a trade could be an option, but it should be the last resort.

Securing the Jobs of KOC and Kwesi

Bad seasons usually end badly for the most important non-players, especially if the track record is still somewhat bleak. Neither head coach Kevin O’Connell nor GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah would risk tanking if it eventually costs them the job because of the record in that one season.

A 10-7 season is better for job security than a 3-14 record, that should be obvious. The duo needs a blank check for whatever the upcoming season is to even consider losing by design.

Is It Enough and Worth It?

camp schedule
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) talk during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Tanking comes with a significant price tag. It ruins the established culture and a head coach can never get rid of that season on his resume. Star players could request trades as they want to play for organizations that actually win.

The departures of Cousins, Hunter, and Davenport give the team the potentially league-worst defense and an offense run by Mullens or Hall isn’t promising. Even then, it might not be enough as Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, Jordan Addison, and K.J. Osborn form a strong receiving corps. Trading away Hockenson could be another necessary step.

Ruining the culture and the authority of a young and promising head coach, possibly disgruntling star players, and wasting a whole season and the foundation of the franchise without the guarantee of drafting first overall doesn’t make much sense.

Paying the enormous price to trade up for a QB or identifying a solid passer later in the first round appears to be the way the Vikings want to go and it is the more reasonable thought process unless the organization is hit by a ridiculous injury bug.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt