Jaren Hall vs. Trey Lance — Should Vikings Have Traded for Lance?

Aug 19, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jaren Hall (16) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jaren Hall played the entire preseason finale against the Cardinals and produced an up-and-down performance typical of his showing in training camp and earlier preseason games.

Jaren Hall vs. Trey Lance — Should Vikings Have Traded for Lance?

The fifth-round rookie played well in leading the team to a 17-3 halftime lead against the Cardinals before players soon to be cut finished the game, and a miscommunication with tight end Ben Sims led to a late Hall interception that was a big factor in the one-point loss.

Hall showed his athleticism on several rollout passes and scrambles for first downs. Coach Kevin O’Connell praised his play and said he wants to keep Hall on this year’s roster (which is the case after Tuesday’s cut to 53 players) and continue to develop him. But Nick Mullens will be the No. 2 QB behind Kirk Cousins this season.

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jaren Hall (16) rolls out to pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, Trey Lance was traded from the 49ers to the Cowboys for only a fourth-round pick after the 49ers had traded three No. 1 picks and a No. 3 pick to move up and select him third overall in the 2021 draft. A year ago, the Marshall, Minnesota native started the 49ers opening two games (with a 1-1 record) before he broke his ankle in Week 2 and then watched Brock Purdy win his first seven starts before his elbow injury in the NFC title game. 

Once Purdy was on track to recover and healthy enough to participate in training camp, 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear that Purdy was going to be the starter and Lance and Sam Darnold would compete for the backup role, which Darnold won, thus putting Lance on the trade market. 

Aug 13, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) throws the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

I think the Vikings missed an opportunity to acquire a potential future starter in Lance, who could have competed with Hall to be a possible heir apparent to Cousins if the team decides not to extend Cousins in 2024 when his contract is up. GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell do not seem to be in a hurry to extend the 35-year-old who led a 13-win season with eight come-from-behind victories in 2022 but couldn’t deliver a home playoff win in the wildcard round. Cousins also seems content to play out the 2023 season and then talk about a possible extension after what he and the team hope is another playoff season with a couple of playoff victories. 

The Vikings would have taken on Lance’s very affordable $940,000 salary this season, but he also would have been owed a guaranteed $5.31 million in 2024 (and the Vikings could have then exercised Lance’s fifth-year option if they so desired). That’s not too steep a price for an unproven but athletic QB who was highly touted coming out of North Dakota State and is only 23 years old.

I think the Vikings should have topped the Dallas offer by adding an upgrade from the fourth-round pick to a third-rounder if Lance becomes the starter, with the upgrade going to a second-round pick if he leads the team to the playoffs.

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jaren Hall (16) hands the ball off to running back Abram Smith (41) against the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It’s likely a long shot, but perhaps Hall will quickly develop into a future NFL starting-caliber QB. That will be hard to do when he gets limited practice snaps and probably no game action during the upcoming season. But it would’ve been a good situation to have Lance back in his home state to compete with Hall since Mullens is a good enough No. 2 now but unlikely to ever take over the starting job for the Purple. 

Observations from the Vikings-Cardinals game & the final cut: 

Another draft choice who solidified his roster spot by having an impressive performance against the Cardinals in the preseason finale was safety Jay Ward. The fourth-round rookie had a strip-sack on a blitz, two pass breakups, and two third-down run stops. I like his speed and playmaking, and while it may be difficult for him to get play time on defense with the veteran players ahead of him (Harrison Smith, Cam Bynum, Josh Metellus, and Lewis Cine), he should be an impactful special teamer this season and a potential contributor on defense down the road.

The biggest surprises to me among the final cuts were edge rusher Luiji Vilain, who was impressive in preseason, and cornerback Joejuan Williams, who lost out to undrafted rookie corner and special teams ace Najee Thompson and last year’s second-round pick Andrew Booth. I think Williams outplayed Booth in camp, but the team opted to keep the often-injured Booth, who should have upside if he can stay on the field and become more consistent. 

Aug 29, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams (33) before the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports.

Fifth-round rookie Jaquelin Roy showed enough potential to stick over vet defensive end Ross Blacklock, who did not make enough plays and cost the team a sixth-round pick with a seventh-rounder coming back when they traded for him from Houston last year. 

Five of the six draft picks from this year have made the roster so far, with only seventh-round running back DeWayne McBride let go, but he probably will be signed to the practice squad, as will Vilain (if he clears waivers), and probably Williams along with receiver Trishton Jackson who had a strong camp. First-round receiver Jordan Addison and third-round corner Mekhi Blackmon are possible starters in the three wide receiver offense and when three corners are on the field.

Four tight ends made the roster, including second-year man Nick Muse, but there are only three running backs (plus fullback C.J. Ham) among the initial 53, including Kene Nwangwu, who has been hurt all preseason. The Vikings will likely be looking to add another running back to the active roster via a waiver wire pickup. It’s also unusual that there are six safeties on the roster, including former Titans sixth-rounder Theo Jackson, but that indicates defensive coordinator Brian Flores will often have three safeties in his defensive alignments.   

Around the NFL Observations:

1. As the Vikings gear up for the season opener against the Buccaneers, they know former Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen will not be in the lineup due to the knee injury that limited him to one game last season. Jensen’s knee has not responded to treatment, and he was placed on season-ending injured reserve, a significant loss in leadership and performance for the Bucs offensive line. He’ll be replaced by second-year center Robert Hainsey, a third-round pick in 2021.

Baker Mayfield will lead the post-Tom Brady Bucs offense after winning the starting QB competition with Kyle Trask. Mayfield is on a one-year, $4 million contract (plus $4.5 million in incentives) as the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft by Cleveland attempts to jump-start his career with a big season for the defending NFC South champs (who won the lowly division with an 8-9 record before losing the wild card game 31-14 to the Cowboys). The Bucs’ top 10 defense from 2022 will be a big challenge for the Vikings offense in Week 1. 

I’ll preview the Vikings-Bucs matchup next week and make my game-by-game predictions on the Vikings season. 

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.