As we enter the month of April and become fully immersed in Draft Season, the Minnesota Vikings will be one of the most intriguing teams to watch over the next few weeks leading up to the draft. Here are five things we’ll be focused on as April 23 approaches…
What will they do with Anthony Harris?
When the season came to an end it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Vikings would let Harris walk in free agency. But in the final hour they decided to franchise tag him with hopes of working out a trade and adding additional draft capital to their bevvy of picks. However, it appears that the Vikings have not been able to find a suitor at their price tag, which was a second-round pick per Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
If they move Harris, finding a replacement at safety could become a top priority. This draft features several high quality prospects in the first and second round like Xavier McKinney, Antoine Winfield Jr., Grant Delpit and Ashtyn Davis. But if the Vikings instead figure out a long-term contract extension for the NFL’s leader in interceptions, they can focus on other positions with their first three picks.
The long shot here is trading Harrison Smith and keeping Harris. While it would be a vastly unpopular move, Smith’s age and the team’s salary cap situation combined with a likely first-round pick coming back to Minnesota would make it somewhat enticing.
Which open positions will they fill in free agency?
While the Vikings have signed a nose tackle and wide receiver in free agency, they are still nowhere close to putting a full squad on the field. They are still short at least one outside and one inside cornerback, a starting defensive end, a guard (possibly two) and a receiver. If Harris is moved, add safety to the list.
There are still dozens of players with NFL experience on the market, which has slowed down to a near halt after a flurry of moves in the opening week of free agency. The Vikings will have to decide which positions they can find on the cheap and which they will be required to fill with draft picks.
The current market is strong with situational pass rushers but is running low on receivers, corners and guards (we reportedly could see Josh Kline return on a new contract or the Vikings could roll with Dakota Dozier).
Once the Vikings fill out a few more spots with bargain free agents — or possibly make a big splash move like trading for Trent Williams — we will have a clear view of the positions of need at No. 22 and No. 25 overall.
Trade up or trade down?
With 12 draft picks including five in the first 105 picks, the Vikings have the option of moving up or down in the first round. If they believe that they need a game-changing player — especially at the cornerback position where the draft is top heavy — they could use some of their mid-round draft capital to move up into the top 15 to select someone like Kristian Fulton or CJ Henderson. There are also three receivers in CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs who stand above the rest of the class. If one of the three makes it into the middle of the first, trading up might be justifiable. Same goes if tackles Tristian Wirfs or Andrew Thomas are available.
But there’s also a case for moving down. If the Vikings could stack up early second round picks, they could fill multiple positions at once in a draft that is very strong in areas like receiver and tackle. It will depend on whether their goal is to grab one serious impact player or to aim for multiple solid NFL’ers. They have had recent success in the second round with Mackensie Alexander, Brian O’Neill and Irv Smith.
Will there be buzz about the Vikings picking a quarterback?
Kirk Cousins is under contract through 2022 but it’s never too soon to start thinking about the future at quarterback. There have been numerous success stories with quarterbacks developing over one or more years as a backup before becoming their team’s franchise player — most recently Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes. Maybe that’s a down-the-road decision but there are scenarios that might be too good to pass up. For example if Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts makes it to the third round or Utah State’s Jordan Love is available at No. 25.
There’s also the late-round option of a QB like Anthony Gordon or Tyler Huntley — each of whom has reason to think they could be successful with a few years of development. Picking a QB this year would give them an opportunity to assess whether they have a player that can be the future of the position after Cousins. It’s also notable that Cousins reportedly no longer has the no-trade clause that was included in his last deal.
The local angle
The Minnesota Gophers’ terrific 2019 season put several players on the map who are likely to be selected. Exactly where they will be picked is unclear. Antoine Winfield Jr. made a case for himself as a first-round pick after running a 4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine while receiver Tyler Johnson did not participate in Combine drills and the coronavirus outbreak complicated his hopes of proving himself in the pre-draft process. Johnson, however, has some believers that he deserves to be a fairly high draft pick. Few would have better insight into him than the Vikings. Defensive end Carter Coughlin also has a shot at being picked.