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Who will be the Vikings’ next quarterback? That depends on who’s in the general manager’s chair

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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) in action against the Denver Broncos during an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Former NFL quarterback and now NFL Network analyst David Carr wrote a column for the league’s website this week in which he identified offensive players who could be moved before the Nov. 3 trade deadline. Carr’s first suggestion included three teams that might be good fits for Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. The Jets are the only winless team left in the NFL and the expectation is, if they finish with the worst record in the league, they will grab Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the top pick in the draft.

Carr suggests the Jets might be wise to move Darnold as soon as possible and that New England, San Francisco and, yes, the 1-5 Vikings could be potential landing places. This is an interesting path to explore, considering how mismanaged Darnold has been since he was the third pick in the 2018 draft. How Jets coach Adam Gase still has a job is a mystery. Darnold has started 30 games in three seasons and the Jets are 11-19. He has thrown 39 touchdowns and 32 interceptions with a 59.8 completion percentage.

Here’s what Carr wrote about the Darnold-Vikings connection:

The Vikings are in a world of hurt financially when it comes to their rapidly declining quarterback. Kirk Cousins signed a two-year, $66 million contract extension in March, but it seems highly unlikely that the team would part ways with him this offseason, given that doing so would result in $41 million in dead money counting against Minnesota’s salary cap in 2021, according to Over the Cap. Might the Vikings trade for a QB with a high ceiling who’s still playing on his rookie contract? They’re going to have to do something, because Cousins isn’t getting it done, and backup Sean Mannion hardly seems like the answer.

This is an intriguing idea — one that was broached shortly before this article appeared on the Mackey & Judd podcast — and should not be dismissed. Darnold is only 23 years old and likely needs to get into a functional situation as soon as possible, or his career will be ruined. He is in the third year of his rookie contract, making $3.2 million this season and $4.6 million next year before the fifth-year option becomes an issue.

Cousins will make $21 million guaranteed next season and carry a $31 million cap hit, but, as Carr points out, Darnold’s contract is reasonable enough that adding him to the Vikings’ roster is a possibility that could give the team its quarterback of the future. So should the Vikings do it? Absolutely, not. At least not yet.

The decision by general manager Rick Spielman to trade defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore for two draft picks on Thursday was met with applause from this corner, along with the suggestion that that deal should only be the start before the trade deadline arrives. A response from some on social media has been that Spielman shouldn’t be making trades, if there’s a chance he’s going to be fired at the end of the season by owners Zygi and Mark Wilf.

Despite the fact Spielman got a contract extension this summer, there is a chance ownership will look at a disappointing season, along with the decision to give Cousins an extension, and decide to go in a different direction. Even if this happens, there is no downside to trading away veterans such as Ngakoue, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Harris and Riley Reiff. Harris is playing on the one-year franchise tag and is almost certainly going to sign elsewhere in March. Rudolph and Reiff have time left on their contracts, but are almost certainly not going to return to Minnesota.

So if Spielman can get draft picks for these players now, ownership should encourage it. What the Wilfs can’t support is allowing Spielman to make a decision on the Vikings’ next quarterback, especially if they are thinking about making a change. Spielman joined the Vikings in 2006 and became GM in 2012. His quarterback track record has been spotty at best. It was Spielman’s decision to take Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in the 2011 draft. The Vikings’ starting QBs since that time have included Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Cousins.

Bridgewater, the final pick in the first round of the 2014 draft, might have been a hit but a devastating leg injury derailed his career. Bradford, acquired to replace Bridgewater, also couldn’t overcome injury issues, and Keenum, who got the Vikings to the 2017 NFC title game under coach Mike Zimmer, was a back up before that season and has returned to that role in Cleveland.

Cousins was supposed to be the answer, but the Vikings failed to make the playoffs in 2018, were eliminated in the second round last season and are headed nowhere this year. So if Spielman is going to be shown the door, or if that remains a possibility, why force the next GM, and maybe the next coach, to take on a quarterback they might not want?

There are many directions a new GM could take the Vikings, including looking to make a move so the team can grab Lawrence or Justin Fields at the top of the draft. What could help accomplish that is for Spielman to continue acquiring draft picks before the trade deadline. But as far as the quarterback position goes, the man known as Trader Rick should be told to put his phone down for now.