Vikings Trade Vindicated

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Many scratched their heads back in October, but a Minnesota Vikings trade was vindicated this week.

Vikings Trade Vindicated

Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah sent left guard Ezra Cleveland to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 6th-Round pick five months ago after it became apparent that Dalton Risner would take over for Minnesota at Cleveland’s spot.

Vikings Trade
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Various Vikings fans said, “That’s it?” to the trade haul, but fast forward to Thursday, and Cleveland netted an impressive contract extension in Jacksonville, one that the Vikings were never likely to offer.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted, “The Jaguars and standout G Ezra Cleveland have agreed to terms on a new 3-year deal worth $28.5M, sources say, with $14.5M guaranteed. Jacksonville traded for Cleveland last season and moved quickly to keep him off the market in a deal done by Ron Slavin of SportsStars.”

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The extension situates Cleveland around the NFL’s 17th highest-paid guard, a wonderful money grab for the former Vikings lineman. In 2023, Cleveland’s last season with Minnesota and first in Jacksonville, he produced the league’s 38th-best Pro Football Focus grade with a 59.5 — the same score as current Vikings right guard Ed Ingram. So, Cleveland will be paid at a Top 16 clip for showcasing Top 38 production in his most recent sample.

Meanwhile, Minnesota’s strategy at left guard is unclear, with free agency four days away. Adofo-Mensah could re-sign Risner, explore a different free agent, promote from within vis-a-vis a player like Blake Brandel, or use the 2024 NFL Draft. To be determined.

Judgment Day
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The trade vindicates Adofo-Mensah because at least he received something for Cleveland. The young executive had to know last season he wouldn’t oblige the lofty asking price that Cleveland ultimately landed, so salvaging a late-round draft pick was better than nothing.

The Vikings struggled via offensive guard play for years before the 2022 season, but after scooping Ed Ingram out of the 2022 NFL Draft, adding Chris Reed in 2022, signing Dalton Risner, and developing the aforementioned Brandel, the woes are finally over. Or at least not as bad as they were from 2016 to 2021.

Pro Football Network called the Vikings’ offensive line the fifth-best leaguewide in 2023 via power rankings in January, a rather refreshing upgrade because Minnesota used to check in around the bottom five of such lists during the Mike Zimmer era.

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Some have speculated that Cleveland’s larger-than-expected contract could indicate a return to offensive tackle at some point. While that could be true — Cleveland played tackle in college — the Jaguars already have Cam Robinson and Anton Harrison under contract at OT in 2024.

Cleveland will turn 26 in May.

Cleveland’s Jaguars started the 2023 season with an 8-3 record but utterly collapsed in December and January, to the tune of a 1-6 finish, and missed the postseason altogether.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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