5 Realistic Moves That the Minnesota Vikings Could Make at NFL Trade Deadline
The Minnesota Vikings have found themselves to be surprising contenders for a playoff spot in the tough NFC North, and could be looking to push even further to solidify their spot in the NFC as a playoff team, rather than once more be on the outside looking in.
It is, however, still unlikely that the Vikings (or any other team) make a move—most players worth trading for are players that teams don't want to let go of. The Vikings in particular are more committed to building a young, disciplined team through the draft.
While the Vikings refuse to use the word "rebuilding," they still have a heavy responsibility to look toward the future when making team decisions, regardless of the likelihood of a playoff run.
The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to move the trade deadline back to the Tuesday following Week 8 (October 30) rather than the Tuesday following Week 6 (October 16), presumably to allow teams to cover for injuries in the middle of a playoff run, or to otherwise open the NFL up to trades. It still is unlikely that NFL teams make those moves.
It's extraordinarily difficult to account for the salary cap in trades, and players will take time to acclimate to a system. In a 16-game season, trades involve quite a bit of risk for a longer-term reward.
Most recently, the Vikings famously traded a third-round pick for Randy Moss and a seventh-round selection, only receiving four weeks of production from him, which totaled 174 yards.
That said, it remains a fascinating exercise to determine how the Vikings would work the trading block if it were at all possible.
Toby Gerhart to the Arizona Cardinals
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Perhaps one of the more inflammatory moves the Vikings could made, they would still get good value for money trading current backup running back Toby Gerhart.
While Gerhart has generally been fantastic in relief of Adrian Peterson, his ability will make him hard to retain come the end of the 2013 season, when his contract expires.
The Vikings may be in the best possible position to trade Gerhart and still receive a good set of draft picks.
Arizona would likely agree to a deal with an implied contract (the inverse of the well-known NBA sign-and-trade), but would still like to get their hands on a young, productive running back—one who is likely better than a healthy Ryan Williams or Beanie Wells. With the Cardinals reduced to William Powell and the disappointing LaRod Stephens-Howling, they may be even more amenable to a trade.
Arizona has about $20 million available in their cap, so signing Gerhart should not be too much of an issue.
In return, the Vikings could negotiate any number of deals, including a conditional second-round pick or a third and a fourth. The ability to trade for a late-round pick (like one later in the fifth) and a future second-round pick could remain but is probably unlikely.
If the Vikings end up receiving less than a second-round pick, some might be worried that it represents a lost investment, but it's not quite so clear. The Vikings invested a second-round pick (or, more accurately, a second-round pick and a third-round selection), after all, and that sort of trade might look like a net loss.
Instead, the Vikings should view the additional picks—say, a third and a fourth—as a bonus to the 1350 yards Gerhart has provided to the team as his return for the 51st pick.
The Vikings know the value of a good backup running back, so they probably won't pull the trigger on this as a potential trade, but they should feel at least OK with Matt Asiata and Jordan Todman (who could be signed from the practice squad) as backups to Peterson.
Toby Gerhart to the Green Bay Packers
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There's not too much to add to this potential trade that hadn't already been pointed out in the Arizona discussion, but it bears repeating that Toby Gerhart could have potential trade value to running back-needy teams.
Green Bay always looks more in rhythm on their offense when they rush the ball, and it only makes sense that the offense is even better with a good running back behind the helm.
Make no mistake, evaluators know that Gerhart is a good running back—he ranked 10th in the NFL last year in yards per carry (for backs with above 100 attempts) and 9th in yards after contact per attempt. He forced 23 missed tackles, despite only 109 attempts.
It might seem odd to trade to a division rival, but the Vikings have shown no qualms allowing talented players to go to other teams if they feel it benefits them. When passing on Jahvid Best in the same draft they grabbed Gerhart in, the Vikings understood that they were letting a rival grab a good running back, and felt they were getting better value by trading down and grabbing Chris Cook, something Tom Pelissero outlined on twitter after his conversation with the Vikings executive staff:
#Vikings weren't taking Jahvid Best no matter what. Took Chris Cook at No. 34 and used "extra" pick to justify moving up for Toby Gerhart.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) October 16, 2012
The Packers are missing a feature running back, with Cedric Benson out. Further injuries to Brandon Saine, a backup and James Starks (turf toe) have given them a questionable backfield. There's even talk of having the run game revolve around Alex Green, John Kuhn and Randall Cobb—an odd committee for sure.
The Packers have around a little less than $15 million in cap space to play with, so signing Gerhart to an extension after the trade should be easy.
The folks in green and gold do not like trading for players, but it certainly is an option they should at least consider. If the Vikings can grab a good set of draft picks, like a conditional second-round pick—or even a conditional, late first-round pick—it's well worth giving a divisional opponent a better chance of winning.
Devery Henderson to the Minnesota Vikings
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Well-known among Vikings fans is the need for a reliable deep-threat receiver. The biggest issue with finding a deep-threat, is that one generally has to either overpay in free agency or go through the draft—teams do not want to give up a legitimate playmaker.
It's still unlikely that the New Orleans Saints would give up a player like that, but they are still the most likely candidates to provide the Vikings value for a trade. Other deep receivers look to be much more tied up and committed to their particular teams, and also provide more production within their role.
While Henderson is relatively short (5'11") for a deep receiver, he's still effective. He ran the 40 yard dash in 4.36 seconds, and this speed translates into on-field production. In 2011, 18.8 percent of his targets were deep for 110 yards and two touchdowns, and in 2012 that rose to 117 yards off of deep passes, three touchdowns and 35 percent of his targets coming from beyond 20 yards.
Henderson has been targeted more on deep routes as a percentage of his time on the field than all but three receivers (Torrey Smith, Golden Tate and Devin Hester), and has hauled every one of the catchable deep passes that Brees will send his way.
In four games (missing the Carolina Panthers game due to concussion), he's only produced 197 yards, the majority of it coming against San Diego—that's particularly telling, as it means only 80 of his yards came from shorter routes.
The Saints have deep options in Lance Moore, Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham. Those three players, along with depth players like Courtney Roby, could all make up for Henderson's absence. His lack of time on the field has only partially to do with his talent (which is good) and more to do with how much depth the Saints' receiving corps has.
Henderson isn't a premier player, but he could help open up the Vikings offense despite not being familiar with most of the concepts. The Vikings simply need a player who can reliably stretch the play vertically, and Henderson fits that moniker.
The Saints may be able to trade him to the Vikings to receive a late-third round pick, or any number of equivalents (a second-round the year after) and in doing so bolster their offense while allowing the Saints to test their mettle. The fact that Henderson is ending his contract this year may depress the trade value down further, potentially allowing the Vikings to steal him with a middle-round pick.
Cedric Thornton to the Minnesota Vikings
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The Minnesota Vikings need to find a nose tackle they can rely upon well into the future. Defensive tackles who can perform are valued highly in the NFL, so it take quite a bit of effort to find one that can replace a starter and still be available for trade.
While the Eagles haven't given any indication they want to give Thornton up to any teams, his sport as a replacement instead of starter means his position is much less secure than the well-performing Derek Landri or Cullen Jenkins.
While projected to play as a 3-technique defensive tackle, his size and versatility give him the latitude to play almost anywhere on the line. At 6'3" 309 pounds, he is a hard player to overpower, and has proven his resiliency with the Eagles.
He started off the season poorly, but as shown flashes of very strong play. He is the second best run defender for the Eagles' defensive tackle corps, recording a defensive stop on six tackle attempts. More than that, he's also been a very productive pass rusher in his limited snaps, garnering five quarterback pressures while doubled on only 74 pass-rushing snaps.
By comparison, Guion has pressured the quarterback only four times on 100 pass rushing snaps. He has been more effective in the run game, but also misses many more tackles.
Trading for a backup undrafted free agent to replace a starting nose tackle might reek of desperation, but Thornton has serious talent and work effort that the Vikings can use to overcome the consistency problems they've had at this position since Pat Williams left.
The Eagles should be willing to part with him for a middle-to-late pick (probably an early fifth or even a late sixth), and his salary of less than $1 million won't burden the Vikings, who have at least $8 million cap room to work with.
The Eagles have a number of defensive tackles and defensive tackle prospects they can use, despite a system that puts heavy demands on their DTs, and may be willing to trade him.
Everson Griffen to Four Different Teams
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Everson Griffen has captured the attention of Vikings fans and pundits, who have noted his prodigious increase in production, brought about by his surprising work ethic, and incredible athleticism.
Griffen has only been on the field for 200 snaps, yet has recorded three sacks, four hits and five quarterback hurries—one of the more productive performances in the league.
His lighter frame of 260 pounds should attract teams needing a 3-4 outside linebacker, a system he seems perfect for. His size, weight and speed gives him the perfect combination of talent and physical skill that scouts are looking for in a prospect.
Before character concerns dropped Griffen into the fourth round, he was a second-round prospect and has been proving why lately on the field.
His experience at linebacker with the Vikings was a failure, but in a different system may be an entirely different story. He can rush from the second level as well as anyone—excepting perhaps Von Miller—and can rush from the edge with tenacity and speed. Setting up wider as a pass rusher in a 3-4 system may give him the latitude he needs to perfectly display all of his skills.
He doesn't necessarily play in coverage as well as some linebackers do, but his coverage responsibilities won't be that important for teams needing an effective pass rush from a player that has played all over the field.
Griffen is extremely experienced at disguising coverages, confusing offenses and sugaring gaps to change and confound protection schemes. Defenses that rely on deception will particularly appreciate that.
At the top of the list has to be the Washington Redskins, who rely on deception more than anything else to get things done, but haven't been able to close the deal. The loss of Brian Orakpo has made their defense one dimensional and lack the punch they need to pull away from the rest of the NFC East in a surprisingly close playoff race. With that potent offense, the Redskins should be interested in instantly upgrading their defense.
Green Bay might also be interested after the injury to Nick Perry, but it looks like it won't be a season-ending injury. Nevertheless, relying on Erik Walden is never good, and if the Packers want to turn things around, their takeaway-oriented defense will need to generate consistent pass pressure. Without knowing how long Perry is out, the Packers may be interested buyers, but perhaps look elsewhere knowing the potential price.
With them are the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose defense has not lived up to its reputation and may be missing James Harrison for more time than they expected with the concussion. The Steelers do not yet know who they have in backup Jason Worilds, and with Harrison expected to retire within a season or two anyway, they could do better than take a look at an already productive pass rusher.
The New York Jets aren't shy to trade, and they may want to pull the trigger on such an option given the disappointing performance of Calvin Pace. While Griffen wouldn't start in place of Pace, he might put pressure on the veteran to start producing more. The loss of Darrelle Revis means that the Jets will need all of their players to perform better on defense if they want to remain consistent, and an addition of a productive outside linebacker will give them the boost they need to cover up for the hole left behind by Revis Island.
Beyond those specific teams, any number of other 3-4 teams may look to bite on this athletic end with clear talent. It seems as if Griffen's troublesome days are behind him and the Vikings could get good value from what is clearly a potential star.
While the Vikings would be lucky to demand a first-round pick, even a future pick, they may be able to land a conditional late first-round pick or, more likely, a second round pick. That would probably mean they would translate a great backup into a starter for the future.