Following the signings of Anthony Barr and Shamar Stephen, the Minnesota Vikings have about enough cap space to afford a new Jugs machine.
One of the potential options for creating more space is trading cornerback Trae Waynes, who owns a $9 million cap hit for 2019.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport reported on Wednesday that the Vikings have been receiving calls on their starting outside corner.
The #Vikings have received calls from teams interested in trading for former first-round CB Trae Waynes, sources say. His fifth-year option just became fully guaranteed, so Minnesota won’t cut him. But there is interest.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 13, 2019
Would it make sense for the Vikings to deal their former first-round pick? Let’s have a look at the reasoning behind a possible Waynes trade and the drawbacks if the Vikings do elect to deal him…
Pros of a Waynes trade
Cap space, cap space, cap space. According to OverTheCap.com, only two teams — the Eagles and Jaguars — have less spending room than the Vikings at $7.1 million. A trade for Waynes would likely net the Vikings one or more draft picks and create an additional $9 million in space to spend on a different position.
With Sheldon Richardson leaving for Cleveland and no guards outside of Danny Isidora under contract, the Vikings still have some holes to fill. They also need to find more weapons for Kirk Cousins. A cool $9 million in space could go a long way in landing a quality free agent at one of those spots or pay for more than half of Richardson’s or Barr’s franchise tag.
There’s also opportunity. While Waynes has become a solid starter, the Vikings may see Mike Hughes — their 2018 first-round pick — as a better cover corner with high-end potential. If Minnesota’s front office doesn’t move anyone out, Hughes will fight for playing time with Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander. If Waynes is traded, Hughes can get right to work as the starter and begin to fully develop his craft.
With Holton Hill putting together a strong rookie season as a fill-in and Mike Zimmer’s ability to develop corners and put them in positions to succeed, there’s a good chance the Vikings won’t miss a beat. Over the last two seasons, opponents have registered a 95.4 and 92.3 passer rating against Waynes.
If the deal was indeed for a draft pick, it’s highly unlikely anyone would move a first-round pick for Waynes, but a second-round selection is within reason. In the recent past, the Vikings have landed players like Brian O’Neill, Dalvin Cook, Alexander, Eric Kendricks and Kyle Rudolph in the second round. A pick in that range could also be used to trade up.
Interest should be significant. There are nine teams with over $50 million to spend. The Indianapolis Colts, for example, lead the league in cap space and happen to have two second-round picks this year.
The other possible return might be a starting offensive lineman. Normally teams do not trade quality linemen but a rebuilding team like might be willing to part with a veteran. An obvious example is Oakland’s Kelechi Osemele, a Pro Bowler who is reportedly on the trade block.
Cons of a Waynes trade
While he may have been an average cover corner, ranking 46th of 77 by Pro Football Focus among corners with at least 595 snaps, Waynes was the seventh best corner against the run. His production as a run stopper has proven to be sustainable as he rated 11th in 2017.
Sometimes great can be the enemy of good. If the Vikings do hand the reins over the Hughes, they are betting that he will be an above-average player. But we’re not sure he will actually reach that plateau or beyond. We already know that Waynes is average at the position — which is a compliment. Average corners have a lot of value in a league that saw multiple quarterbacks clear 5,000 yards passing.
The Vikings have ranked fourth and third in QB rating allowed as a team over the last two years with Waynes their every-down starter. They have also been fifth and seventh in yards per rush attempt allowed. Do they want to move a player who has been an integral part of that success if they don’t have to do so?
Cornerback depth is gold in the NFL. Last year acted as a good example. Waynes and Rhodes were dinged up at times and Hughes was lost for the season, often forcing Hill into action. The Vikings had elected to keep their top undrafted free agent on the roster and find other places to subtract — a move that paid off in spades for the defense down the stretch as Hill allowed just 16 catches on 31 targets and a 67.0 rating against.
What if Rhodes doesn’t have a bounce-back year and the Vikings can’t simply ask him to lock down every No. 1 receiver in 2019? Would Hughes/Hill/Alexander be able to handle tougher assignments in the past as well as Waynes — who is above average height and ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the Combine in 2015?
Bumping everyone up the depth chart leaves the bottom end with question marks. If they trade Waynes and suffer injuries again, will the Vikings have enough quality players to sustain the losses?
Moving Waynes, in a way, would mean Zimmer betting on himself. Not only would he need to believe in Hughes/Hill as being a better option, but also in his own ability to scheme around them if their full potential isn’t reached in 2019.
However, the Vikings might not have any better options. It’s possible they could restructure Everson Griffen and Kyle Rudolph’s deals, they can’t do a thing about Waynes’ price tag because it’s his fifth-year option.
If the Vikings are planning on moving on from Waynes after this season, it’s better to get something now than nothing later.