NFL Thoughts as April Arrives, Frank Gilliam Memories & Who Has Leverage in Rodgers’ Trade Talks

The World Has "Grades" for Vikings Big Trade
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

April has thankfully arrived with spring in the air — finally! On the NFL calendar, that means the Vikings offseason program will begin in less than two weeks with conditioning work and install meetings (especially for the defense as new coordinator Brian Flores puts his more aggressive system in place).  

April 17 begins Year 2 for the Vikings under Coach Kevin O’Connell after a very successful 13-win first season until the disappointing playoff loss.

NFL Thoughts as April Arrives, Frank Gilliam Memories & Who Has Leverage in Rodgers’ Trade Talks

Things further ramp up for the Vikings and other teams in May and early June with OTAs and minicamp.

April, of course, also is draft month, and Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and his scouts — along with O’Connell and the coaches — are hosting some potential draftees at team headquarters over the next few weeks leading up to the April 27-29 draft in which the Vikings have five picks including No. 23 in the first round.

Minnesota will be seeking greater contributions from the upcoming 2023 draft picks after injuries derailed so many draftees last season, including the top two choices —safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. and a promising fourth-round corner in Akayleb Evans.

as April Arrives
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports.

The team is hoping for greater impact from these three players in 2023, along with improvement from second-round guard Ed Ingram who started every game and had an up-and-down season. Third-rounder Brian Asamoah looked good and fast in limited play last season, and he should be a starter at inside linebacker this season after Eric Kendricks was released.

Fifth-round running back Ty Chandler showed flashes of talent in training camp and preseason, and he could get a greater opportunity for playing time if the Vikings trade or release Dalvin Cook. Another fifth-round pick last year — D-lineman Esezi Otomewo got some play time and could develop. We also saw signs of potential in sixth-round wide receiver Jalen Nailor who may have an opportunity to compete for the third receiver spot with K.J. Osborn moving to No. 2 after the departure of Adam Thielen.

I always said players improve the most from Year 1 to Year 2, and I think last year’s draft class will make great strides this coming season. 

Vikings Trade out
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

With the 2023 first-round pick, it’s expected that Adofo-Mensah will select a cornerback from a talented group at the position, but a pass rusher, defensive tackle, or even a quarterback would not be surprising given the uncertainty with Za’Darius Smith, Kirk Cousins’ lack of an extension so far, and the free agent departure of starting DT Dalvin Tomlinson.

Memories of a great personnel man and person in Frank Gilliam:

Frank was the longtime Vikings player personnel exec who passed away recently.

I worked closely with Frank for over 20 years. He was a great guy who got along well with everyone and always brought a friendly smile. He had a great eye for talent, and he and Jerry Reichow formed a terrific tandem in running the player personnel area for so many years and playing an instrumental role — along with Scott Studwell in later years — in identifying talent in the draft and free agency to help build so many playoff teams for the Vikings.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the 1998 draft when we selected future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss, and Frank played a significant role in our making that decision.

Frank will be greatly missed by all of us privileged to work with him.

Around the NFL Observations:

So, who has the leverage in the Aaron Rodgers trade negotiation between the Packers and Jets?

Overall, it’s fairly equal as the Packers clearly have had enough of Rodgers’ drama and have said it’s time for fourth-year man Jordan Love to take the QB reigns. The Jets also have made it clear that Rodgers is their choice to lead the team (and Rodgers also has stated his desire to join the Jets), so the players, coaches, and fan base are counting on it to happen after poor QB play from former No. 1 pick Zach Wilson derailed a promising Jets season in 2022. 

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) watches the action on field right before halftime during their game Sunday, November 21, 2021 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. The Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers 34-31. © MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL / USA TODAY NETWORK.

I think in the pre-draft period, the Jets have slightly more leverage as the Packers would much prefer to get the trade completed and pick up a second-round pick in this month’s draft (it’s unlikely the Jets would give up their first-round pick — No. 13 overall — but they surely would give one of their two second-round picks plus a conditional first or second rounder in 2024 depending on Rodgers’ production).

While the Jets would like to have Rodgers in their facility when the offseason program opens in two weeks, they don’t really need him present to work with his new Jets coaches and teammates until on-field work begins with OTAs in May. And with Rodgers’ former offensive coordinator at the Packers — Nathaniel Hackett — now the Jets new OC, Rodgers knows Hackett’s offense already (and probably got a Jets playbook or portions thereof on the sly from Hackett, which is not supposed to happen until after a player is traded).

But a factor the Packers are surely mentioning is they will take on an additional $9 million cap charge this year by trading Rodgers pre-June 1 since they would absorb a $40 million dead money hit to their salary cap compared to the $31 million cap number Rodgers currently has for 2023 if he stayed in Green Bay.

If no deal is made before the draft, then the leverage shifts slightly to the Packers as they then would likely prefer to wait until after June 1 to finalize the trade so they can split the salary cap dead money hit over two years, which would give them $25 million of additional cap room this year while taking on a $15 million dead money hit in 2023 instead of $40 million this year.

And the pressure will mount on the Jets to get Rodgers into their OTAs and minicamp to work with the receivers and backs in the passing game. But the Packers also want to be sure to get Rodgers and his $59 million option bonus off the payroll (with the Jets likely to restructure his deal which further complicates matters). 

Bottom line is this trade is going to happen, and we’ll see if it’s sooner or later.

Next week: could talented but problematic defensive tackle Jalen Carter have a Randy Moss –like fall to the Vikings in the first round of this month’s draft?

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl