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Vikings in better shape with Ezra Cleveland pick than Trent Williams trade

We’re a long way from knowing whether Friday night will be memorable for the players the Minnesota Vikings added to their roster but we know it will certainly be remembered as the draft in which they appeared close to acquiring seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams.

For weeks leading up to the NFL Draft, Washington negotiated with teams around the league in attempts to move Williams, who had become disgruntled following a mishandled medical situation. The 31-year-old tackle sat out the entire 2019 season with hopes of being moved and finding a new home in 2020.

When the draft arrived, the teams that were most often tied to Williams in trade rumors all drafted tackles. Andrew Thomas went to the Giants, Cleveland took Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton was selected by the Jets and Tristan Wirfs went to Tampa Bay.

The Vikings, on the other hand, went with a receiver and corner, leaving the door open to a trade that would instantly upgrade the pass protection for quarterback Kirk Cousins. But on Day 2, the Vikings selected Boise State tackle Ezra Cleveland, ending any speculation that they would be interested in giving up assets for the veteran.

At the time of the selection, it appeared the Vikings simply saw the draft board play out the right way and chose Cleveland over Williams. But NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Williams told his current team that he did not want to be traded to Minnesota, ending any chance of a deal getting done.

“Washington had been looking for a draft pick in return for Williams and the thinking of many was the asking price was too high,” Rapoport said. “But, as far as a potential trade to the Vikings, it sounds as if Williams simply had little interest in coming to Minnesota.”

While there are few players in the 2011-2020 decade that were better at left tackle, Williams might have made a better decision for the Vikings by pushing them into picking Cleveland. Washington’s star hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2013, missing a full season’s worth of contests between 2015 and 2018 due to injury issues. Heading into his age-32 season, there is plenty of risk that either injuries have taken their toll or he would get hurt again.

Friday’s events were also preceded by the announcement that the Houston Texans signed left tackle Laremy Tunsil to a new contract worth $22 million per year. Williams is entering the final year of his contract and would very likely be aiming for a contract extension before ever stepping on the field. The projected price would be in the $15-$17 million range, which would have put a strain on the Vikings’ cap situation and possibly forced them to move current left tackle Riley Reiff or franchise-tagged safety Anthony Harris.

The reward of scoring Williams would have been high. The risk was equally as great.

Instead the Vikings ended the night with one of the most experienced, athletic tackles in the draft who carries an added bonus of possibly playing guard right away and then moving over to tackle.

“He fits everything we’re looking for from a schematic standpoint,” GM Rick Spielman said. “He’s long. He’s athletic. Reminded us a lot of [Brian] O’Neill when we took him open in the same spot in the second round. I know talking to our coaches, they see him being a possible position flexibility-type guy. You know, left tackle, right tackle. Even some potential for guard if we needed to.”

In terms of sheer athleticism, there’s a lot of Trent Williams in Ezra Cleveland. Once upon a time Williams ran a 4.81 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5, 315-pounds. Cleveland ran a 4.91 at 6-foot-6, 311-pounds. Cleveland repped more on the bench and ran a slightly quicker 20-yard shuttle.

That’s by no means a guarantee Cleveland becomes the next Williams — or even what he would have been in the later stages — but they found a player who fit the profile they were ¬†looking for at left tackle. They landed a prospect who put together three consecutive years as a strong pass protector and gives them a good shot at having drafted a long-term option at left tackle for the first time since Bryant McKinnie. The Vikings have seen other swings like Matt Kalil and TJ Clemmings fail in the draft and the Reiff signing to be a short-term solution to their problem.

Williams might have worked out great and only cost a third or fourth-round pick along the way. But having a cost-controlled ascending player than a highly-expensive descending player.

Whether it was the request or the price or the player who fell into the Vikings’ lap, they came out with the better path to building a complete offensive line.


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