Vikings Must Parlay Trade into Drafting Franchise QB

Drops One Hint
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Just when the Vikings quarterback situation looked shaky with Kirk Cousins’ departure, the roller coaster went back up after the astute trade for Houston’s first-round pick, No. 23 overall.

Vikings Must Parlay Trade into Drafting Franchise QB

I was not impressed with the thought of Sam Darnold stepping in for Cousins, but Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah executed an excellent trade (basically sending two second-round picks—this year’s and next year’s for the Texans’ first-rounder). This has positioned the Vikings to trade the 11th and 23rd picks to Arizona in order to move into the top four (perhaps with a mid-round pick in 2025 tossed in).

That would guarantee the Vikings can draft one of the top four QBs in a highly-rated class, with the likely target being J.J. McCarthy after Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, and Drake Maye are expected to go 1-2-3 to Chicago, Washington, and New England. The Vikings reportedly are sending QB Coach Josh McCown and assistant QB Coach Grant Udinski to McCarthy’s Pro Day at Michigan this Friday and have set up a private workout on Michigan’s campus next week for McCarthy with Kevin O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah.

Franchise QB
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Perhaps the Vikings could move into the top three if they sweeten the pot for the Commanders or Patriots if O’Connell is significantly higher on Daniels or Maye (or Williams in the unlikely event the Bears pass on him) than McCarthy. But the tea leaves are pointing to McCarthy as Minnesota’s likely target.

We know drafting a young first-round QB this year is a must for the long-term future of the franchise and to provide a boost this coming season for the team and the fan base, as I expect McCarthy or one of the other options to win the job from Darnold early in the season if not in training camp. I also expect the Vikings to make a trade up to No. 4 before the draft so they don’t leave room for another team, such as Denver (rumored to want McCarthy), to jump over them.

Until the Vikings make this move to get one of the top four QBs in the draft, I’m giving them a C grade for the offseason that can move to a B+ with a first-round QB who brings great potential and promise. That’s how overwhelmingly important a quality QB is, and the Vikings had a top 10 caliber QB in Cousins (even coming off his Achilles injury). The Vikings hope to draft such a prospect and then have O’Connell and McCown go to work grooming said QB on a fast-track basis.

Getting that rookie with great skills and playing on a rookie contract vs. Cousins’ $45 million per year would be a huge boost if the new quarterback can develop into a Joe Burrow/Lamar Jackson/Josh Allen/Justin Herbert Pro Bowl-caliber player (not even talking Patrick Mahomes, which is too much to ask since he’s a top-three all-time quarterback).

Fans Already Split
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

That would enable the Vikings to use the massive cap space they anticipate having in 2025 (with no dead money for Cousins and Danielle Hunter on the books, which is the case to the tune of approximately $43 million this year). That should provide the financial resources to improve the supporting cast for the young quarterback and add significant talent at need positions on defense, such as cornerback and another edge rusher in the rotation.

Hunter is a big loss as a proven-over-many-seasons, Pro Bowl edge rusher who also is a great run defender. I like the potential of Jonathan Greenard, who is three years younger than Hunter, and the athleticism he brings with great quickness as a pass rusher and a good player against the run.

But we’re talking about a player in Greenard who has missed 20 games with injuries over his four-year career and has only one double-digit sack season (12.5 in 2023) vs. Hunter, who also is an injury concern (with his major injuries in 2020 and 2021 that cost him 27 games) but he has played in every game the past two seasons with 27 sacks and 35 tackles-for-loss (23 last season to lead the league) and has five double-digit sack seasons.

I think Andrew Van Ginkel can be an upgrade as a more versatile edge/OLB over D.J. Wonnum (who signed with Carolina), and the same goes for inside linebacker Blake Cashman who is faster and four years younger than Jordan Hicks and very smart like Hicks.

If Aaron Jones can stay healthy and play as well as he did on the Packers’ late-season run (with five straight 100-plus yard rushing games, including in their two playoff games), he’ll be an upgrade over Alexander Mattison (who just signed with the Raiders) as a dual-purpose back splitting time with Ty Chandler.

The defensive line looks stronger with the free agent signings of ex-Ram Jonah Williams (49 tackles and two sacks with 16 starts last season) and ex-Raider Jerry Tillery (31 tackles and two sacks with three starts in 2023). They’ll help Harrison Phillips, who is coming off his best season (92 tackles, three sacks). Harrison Smith is returning to add leadership and veteran savvy at safety.

Changing Thoughts
January 10th, 2024. Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Kevin O’Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center concluding the 2023 NFL regular season. Minnesota finished 7-10 in 2023 and missed the postseason.

The Vikings also have signed ex-Bear Dan Feeney to provide depth at center and guard after Austin Schlottmann left for the Giants. Blake Brandel got a strong contract (three years, $9.5 million) for a backup, but he’s versatile enough to play guard or tackle, and the money paid to him indicates he could challenge for a starting guard spot if the Vikings don’t re-sign Dalton Risner or add another guard who started elsewhere. Re-signing David Quessenberry to back up both tackle spots was a good move, as was bringing back a good player in No. 3 tight end Johnny Mundt.

The biggest need I see currently is for more veteran cornerback help with one needed to start opposite Byron Murphy and possibly another to play as a third corner. The Vikings signed eight-year vet Shaquill Griffin this week (he most recently had seven starts with Carolina and Houston last season). Griffin should help, but there are better corners still available, such as four-time Pro Bowler Stephon Gilmore, who started every game last season for the Cowboys. Two-time Pro Bowl corner Tre’Davious White is coming off a torn Achilles, but he is making free-agent visits with several teams and could be worth a contract with big playing time incentives.

Young drafted corners Akayleb Evans, Mekhi Blackmon, and Andrew Booth may yet develop into reliable corners, but counting on them for significant playing time in 2024 seems very risky.

The Vikings currently have an estimated $15 million in cap room to add a few more quality free agents. They can pick up about $10 million more in cap space if they get Justin Jefferson’s extension done, which would lower his current $19.7 million cap number with a big signing bonus and minimal 2024 base salary.

After re-signing Brandon Powell, who played well last season as a backup receiver (and returner), and with the promising Jalen Nailor entering his third season, I don’t expect any wide receiver signings to replace K.J. Osborn as the third wide receiver to work with one of the NFL’s best duos in Jefferson and Jordan Addison.

Osborn has made many big catches in the past few seasons but also had too many drops last year, and he’s replaceable. Nailor has flashed potential in his first two seasons but has had trouble staying healthy. They should also draft a wide receiver from their four picks in the fourth and fifth rounds to compete for a backup spot. Osborn was a fifth-rounder in 2020.

Minnesota Vikings QB Joshua Dobbs addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center on Wednesday, December 6th, 2023. Dobbs reacted to keeping the starting QB job, discussed ustin Jefferson’s return and More.

In other free agent news, the Vikings say goodbye to Josh Dobbs, who rode the roller coaster last season. He’s headed to a good situation as the likely backup to Brock Purdy in San Francisco.

Overall, it’s been a very active first week of free agency for the Purple. The other NFC North teams also have made some positive additions in free agency, led by DT D.J. Reader and corner Carlton Davis (via trade) to Detroit (who lost a good starting guard in Jonah Jackson), RB Josh Jacobs and safety Xavier McKinney to Green Bay and WR Keenan Allen, RB D’Andre Swift, tight end Gerald Everett and safety Kevin Byard to Chicago.

As I’ve said, the NFC North may well be the best division in the NFL this coming season, and the Vikings can be in the mix with a few more positive moves, starting with drafting their future franchise QB.

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