Additions: EDGE Yannick Ngakoue (Trade), DL Michael Pierce (FA), WR Justin Jefferson (Draft), CB Jeff Gladney (Draft), CB Cam Dantzler (Draft)
Losses: WR Stefon Diggs (Trade), DL Linval Joseph (FA), CB Trae Waynes (FA), EDGE Everson Griffen (FA), EDGE Stephen Weatherly (FA), CB Mackensie Alexander (FA), S Andrew Sendejo (FA), S Jayron Kearse (FA), CB Xavier Rhodes (Cut), DL Michael Pierce (Opt-out)
As you can see, Minnesota lost a lot more talent than it gained this offseason. Their big addition, nose tackle Michael Pierce, opting out didn’t help matters. Trading for Yannick Ngakoue did, though.
Finally freed from Jacksonville, Ngakoue will have to fight fellow edge rusher Danielle Hunter for sacks. With the former Jaguar replacing Everson Griffen, Minnesota will sacrifice a little run defense for a higher pass rush ceiling.
That drop off against the run could come back to bite them. Linval Joseph left in free agency and his replacement opted out, so nose tackle is a big worry for the team. Veteran Shamar Stephen is expected to take over that role despite primarily serving as a 3-tech in his career. Not only is their new 1-tech playing out of position, but they just pushed the problem down the line. Now, the issue is finding a replacement defensive tackle. Outside of Stephens, this is a really uninspiring group. And considering they were a middling unit against the run last year, opposing backs could feast against the Vikings in 2020.
Minnesota’s stacked linebackers will do their best to keep that from happening. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are a top-of-the-line duo. So are safeties Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith. The Vikings have so much star power on defense, but the drop off from the studs to the others is huge.
Just like the run defense, cornerback play could be a major issue. After losing their top three corners this offseason, Minnesota is banking entirely on potential. The projected starters, Holton Hill and Mike Hughes, have a combined nine career starts. To make matters worse, the primary backups are rookies. Obviously, Mike Zimmer believes in these young guys or they wouldn’t be here, but there’s a strong crash-and-burn chance with this experiment.
Contrary to the gutted defense, the offense only lost one key contributor. He was pretty damn important, though. Stefon Diggs may have passively-aggressively begged to be traded, but the talented wideout will be sorely missed. Minnesota will need a return to form from Adam Thielen, who was hurt for most of 2019. Even if he does, no one on this team will come close to replicating the Diggs-Thielen duo or even the new-Bill’s connection with Kirk Cousins. The best options are 2019 seventh-rounder Bisi Johnson and rookie Justin Jefferson.
Actually, the best candidate may lie at tight end. Second-year man Irv Smith Jr. is the prototypical new-age tight end who’s almost more of a receiver. Minnesota could continue to use Kyle Rudolph as the standard in-line blocker and red-zone target while moving Smith all over the field.
Hopefully Kirk Cousins proved himself to everyone last year. He’s not elite, but, in the right offense, he can be great. Dalvin Cook, on the other hand, is elite. Few, if any, backs can hit a hole as fast and hard as he does. With a solid run-blocking unit in front of him, he’s poised for another go at the rushing crown. While the offensive line is good in space, they were downright awful at times in pass protection. If any defense bottles up Cook, the Vikings aren’t likely to walk away with a win.
Minnesota is one of the most interesting teams in the league. They have a proven coach and stars scattered all over the depth chart, but winning even nine games could prove difficult. That’s what happens when you have so many large contracts—the rest of the roster suffers. The Vikings will dominate some weeks and get dominated others. It’s a matchup league, and this team is as matchup-prone as any. I think they win just enough of those matchups to return to the playoffs.
What’s your record prediction for the Vikings? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
Less than two weeks before its 2016 season opener, Minnesota’s 23-year-old starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, suffered a gruesome and season-ending injury. Given their 11-5 record the year before, the Vikings were hesitant chalk it up as a lost season.
As a result, general manager Rick Spielman began to scour the trade block for a veteran quarterback. One name stood out, and Spielman got his guy.
This move was surprising at the time, and without Bridgewater’s injury, Bradford likely would have played out the year in midnight green. After all, Doug Pederson’s message all offseason was that Bradford would start while rookie Carson Wentz rode the bench.
But, every player has a price, and the Vikings met Bradford’s. After being acquired in 2015, Bradford impressed enough to earn a two-year contract, but simultaneously disappointed enough for the team to draft his replacement.
Minnesota Post Trade
Minnesota chose to start Shaun Hill week one due to his experience in the system. That gave Bradford an extra week to study the playbook and a free mark in the win column. The Vikings added additional marks in each of their next four games as Bradford took over and posted six touchdowns with zero turnovers. It was early, but Minnesota and its shiny new acquisition were looking dangerous.
Then, the wheels started to fall off. Bradford turned the ball over three times in week six as the Eagles abused their former quarterback and gave Minnesota its first taste of defeat. It was the Vikings’ first loss on the season, but far from their last. Including the shellacking in Philadelphia, they lost 8 of 11 to secure couch seats for the playoffs.
At first glance, Bradford was far from the problem. He finished with a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio and would have gone over 4,000 yards if he played all 16 games. Most impressively, he broke Drew Brees’ record for highest single-season completion percentage (Brees has bested it every year since).
Look further in depth, though, and you’ll see why surface-level statistics are often misleading (and why I think completion percentage is extremely overrated). Bradford was the perfect example of an overly conservative game manager in 2016.
Instead of throwing it up and giving Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs the chance to make plays, he usually just checked it down. While that limits turnovers, it puts more pressure on the defense to be perfect. To their credit, the Vikings’ star-studded unit stepped up to the plate more often that not. Few defenses were better that season, but Minnesota’s putrid offense sunk them to mediocrity.
In Bradford’s defense, the offense was missing a key cog. Adrian Peterson only suited up in three games in what was ultimately a disappointing, injury-plagued end to his career in The Gopher State. No matter what stage of his career he was in, AD undoubtedly would have made Bradford’s job easier.
Also, this was generally an impossible situation. One of the primary reasons the NFL has so few trades compared to other leagues is how complex and unique each team’s playbook is. Learning a whole new offense in a matter of weeks is no small feat.
It’s also worth noting that Minnesota only paid $7 million of his $18 million 2016 salary. That helped lessen the dissatisfaction towards Bradford while inspiring hope for a strong second season.
But, in typical Bradford fashion, he went down week one. In his first game back, he suffered a season-ending injury. That ended his time with the Vikings, as he somehow convinced the Cardinals he was worth a $40 million contract. Three games into the season, Arizona benched him after what were likely his last snaps in the NFL. He was released the next November and has yet to sign with another team.
Hilariously, Bradford is the 17th-highest paid player of all time, slotting in right behind Brett Favre. He might not be the best quarterback, but he certainly knows how to pick an agent.
For Minnesota, their last-ditch effort to save the season didn’t really pan out. They finished 8-8 in 2016 and fared much better once Case Keenum took over for Bradford.
Even though Bradford was solid overall, there’s little doubt the Vikings would take a do-over for this deal. Those extra picks could have pushed Minnesota over the hump in 2017 or yielded replacements for some of the team’s aging stars. With Bradford’s stay being short and uneventful, just a chance at either of those would have been an improvement.
Philadelphia Post Trade
As sad as Bridgewater’s injury was, it led to a perfect scenario for the Eagles. Without it, Bradford likely would have started as many games as he was healthy for and led the team to a similar record to the 7-9 one they finished with. Good on them for trading Bradford before he even played a single game played on his contract, too. Not all owners would sign off on that.
Dealing Bradford paved the way for Wentz to start as a rookie, something the team was initially against. With a difficult transition from the Missouri Valley Football Conference to the NFL ahead, Pederson wanted his young qb to learn from the bench. Instead, Ginger Jesus was unleashed.
Wentz’ first season featured the typical mix of amazing throws and boneheaded mistakes. Overall, it was about as good as anyone could have expected from an FCS rookie. Plus, the experience he gained proved to be invaluable.
Wentz came out the following year and set the league on fire. He was a near-lock to win MVP before he tore his ACL in week 14. We all know how that story ended, with Nick Foles coming out of nowhere to lead the team to the Super Bowl.
So, without even considering the picks they received, Philadelphia had already seen accelerated growth from its star quarterback and a championship parade within two years of the deal. Sounds pretty good to me.
With Minnesota’s 2017 first-rounder, the Eagles took Barnett, who was most famous for breaking Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee. That record led some to compare Barnett to The Minister of Defense before he even played a professional down. Others (rightfully) thought these comparisons were asinine and worried that his lackluster athleticism would cause him to struggle as a pro.
As a rookie, Barnett tallied five sacks in a rotational role and made a couple huge plays during the team’s playoff run. With a starting job the following year, Barnett was expected to take a huge step forward. But, a bum shoulder derailed the hype as he missed 10 games and the postseason. After a full offseason of recovery, the spotlight was back on Barnett in 2019. He was healthy for most of the year, but didn’t take the superstar leap Eagles fans hoped for.
Still, Barnett is a very good player, even if the White comparisons set him up for failure. His 6.5 sacks last year were underwhelming, but his 22 quarterback hits—tied for 16th-most in the league—are a better indicator of his value. For reference, Danielle Hunter, who also had 22 qb hits, finished with 14.5 sacks.
That’s not to say Barnett is on Hunter’s level, or even close to it, but it does suggest he was more disruptive than the sack total indicates. Sack numbers can be a little flukey, so Barnett could be due for some positive regression. Even if he hasn’t lived up to the hype, I don’t think he’s close to bust territory.
Philadelphia’s other pick is a similar story. Like Barnett, Sweat had large contingents of both fans expecting greatness and those calling him overrated. In his case, he was the top recruit in his high school class before suffering a brutal knee injury. Concerns over his body’s long-term sustainability dropped him to the bottom of the fourth round despite the talent and production of a much higher pick.
Between adjusting to a new scheme and needing to put on weight, Sweat played scarcely as a rookie. Then, in an increased role last year, he flashed. 2020 should bring another substantial bump in snaps for him, so we’ll get a better idea of how good he really is. Until then, it’s tough to judge the value of the selection.
Given how Wentz starting as a rookie was crucial to his growth and the Eagles’ championship, hindsight shows keeping Bradford would have hurt the team. Hell, without this trade, the 2017 Foles-Philly reunion probably never happens.
Netting potentially their starting defensive end duo of the future for a negative asset was well worth the $11 million signing bonus and $5.5 million in 2017 dead cap the Eagles ate. Howie Roseman killed this deal, just as he did countless times en route to the Super Bowl.
Final Verdict: Eagles Win
I understand Minnesota’s thinking behind this trade, and they were far from the only team to mistakenly put their faith in Bradford, but this is an Eagles win through-and-through.
Philadelphia has been a proponent of always having multiple capable quarterbacks for years, and it has proven to be genius every time, including this deal. Maybe we should all have a little more faith in the Jalen Hurts experiment.
Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.