The Minnesota Vikings are on the edge of breaking out. By Week 4 they had matched their win total of 2011. Heading into Week 6 they were tied for first in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears at 4-1, and fans were actually using the "p-word" in their conversations about the Vikings. Now they find themselves 5-2 heading toward the halfway point of the season.
With an entire offseason to develop this team, head coach Leslie Frazier appears to have the Vikings moving in the right direction. Working with general manager Rick Spielman, they have put together a roster built with a foundation of talented young players. Using the rosters listed each year from Pro-Football-Reference.com, the average age of the Vikings this season is 25.7—that's the youngest roster for the Vikings since 1967. This roster has 26 players with four years NFL experience or less, including eight players from each of the last two drafts.
Spielman and Frazier cleaned house, parting ways with several veterans, including guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, cornerback Cedric Griffin, linebacker E.J. Henderson and kicker Ryan Longwell.
Building a team this way takes patience. With youth sometimes comes a steep learning curve. So even though the Vikings may be one or two pieces of the puzzle away from a serious playoff run, don't expect Spielman and company to pull the trigger on any major trades as the trading deadline approaches the Tuesday following Week 8.
Still, that doesn't mean fans cannot dream about the deal that will bring a superstar to the Vikings, leading the team to all the way to a Super Bowl championship.
Bringing it down a notch, here's a look at some potential trade targets the Vikings might consider to assist in the process of building a successful franchise.
My focus was in areas where the Vikings could use some help—linebacker, tight end and wide receiver.
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is a local kid from Wayzata, Minnesota. St. Louis selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft out of Ohio State University.
Before the 2012 season he signed him a six-year, $42 million contract extension that runs through 2017.
He has started every game for the Rams since joining the team, leading them in tackles each year.
Hold on, this is a wish list, not a fantasy list. There's no way the Rams are ever going to part with the cornerstone of their defense—especially now that they have the fifth ranked defense in points allowed and the seventh in yards.
Let's reel this in a bit and look at some options that at least have a slim chance of happening.
Perhaps now that the Lions have come back to earth after their playoff season from a year ago, they might be willing to part with some talent for draft picks. (No one trades players for players anymore.)
Currently 2-3, and in last place in the NFC North, they have a tough schedule ahead of them, including their Monday night matchup in Chicago.
The Vikings, with second-year starter Erin Henderson playing on a one-year contract, and Jasper Brinkley in his first year as a starter, might be looking to add a legitimate starter. Brinkley missed all of last season with an injury, and Henderson has already missed two games this season with a concussion.
With the Vikings focusing on youth, they would welcome the addition of DeAndre Levy. A third-round draft pick out of Wisconsin in 2009, Levy has started 42 of 48 games at outside linebacker.
This season he is third on the Lions in tackles behind fellow linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant.
If the Lions aren't interested in parting ways with DeAndre Levy, perhaps the Vikings could inquire about Justin Durant.
Durant was Jacksonville's second-round pick out of Hampton in 2007. He spent four years with the Jaguars where he started 42 of 50 games he played. He joined the Lions as a free before the 2011 season.
He is currently leading the Lions with 30 tackles.
It would be a tough sell for the Lions to trade a player within the division. The Vikings would have to make it a sweet deal, probably at least two draft picks in 2013.
The Chiefs could be looking to trade players for draft picks in order to reload next season. One possible player the Vikings might be interested in would be inside linebacker Jovan Belcher.
An undrafted free agent from the University of Maine, Belcher has played in every game for the Chiefs since joining the team in 2009.
Since 2010, he has started 37 of 38 games. He finished second for Kansas City with 61 tackles and 26 assists in 2011, and is currently third on the team in tackles with 24.
The Vikings like players that fly under the radar. They currently have nine players on the roster that went undrafted, including starting linebacker Erin Henderson, third-string running back Matt Asiata, emergency quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, and special team players Marcus Sherels, Andrew Sendejo and Larry Dean.
Although listed as a linebacker, Antwan Barnes might be from the same mold as Everson Griffen. Last season with the Chargers he led the team with 11 sacks, despite only starting five games.
However, at 6'1" and 240 lbs, he's built more closely to that of Chad Greenway.
In the last year his contract, Barnes has not been able to crack the starting lineup, and perhaps the Chargers would be willing to deal him.
A fourth-round draft pick of the Ravens in 2007, he played three seasons in Baltimore before being traded to Philadelphia in 2010 for a seventh-round draft pick. After only two games the Eagles released him.
Three days later the Chargers signed him, and he finished the 2010 season playing in 11 games, mainly as a pass-rushing specialist.
Quarterback Christian Ponder has a favorite target when the Vikings get near the end zone—tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph leads the team with five touchdowns, and his 25 catchers are second on the team to Percy Harvin.
The problem is the backup tight ends, John Carlson and Rhett Ellison have a combined six catches and no touchdowns. After suffering a possible concussion on Sunday, Carlson could be unavailable for the next couple of weeks. The Pioneer Press is reporting that he suffered concussion symptoms in the Vikings win over the Cardinals and further tests will be conducted on Monday.
Tennessee tight end Jared Cook is currently second on Titans with 23 catches. He is also in a three-way tie for the team lead with two touchdowns. Cook, the Titans' third-round draft pick in 2009, had his best season last year with 49 catches and three touchdowns. Against the Vikings in Week 5, Cook caught five passes for 37 yards and a touchdown.
Set to become a free agent at the end of the season, the Titans might be willing to listen to an offer, and the Vikings could use some depth.
Another potential trade target at tight end is Marcedes Lewis from Jacksonville.
For the last place Jaguars, Lewis shares the team lead with a measly 14 receptions, and has the team lead with two touchdowns. The Jaguars' first-round draft pick from 2006, Lewis has started 82 of 83 games he's played in since 2007. His best season came in 2010 when he caught 58 passes for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Signed through the 2015 season, Lewis' base salary is $4.2 million, that's the same hit the Vikings are taking for John Carlson.
In the season opener against the Vikings he caught five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Perhaps Lewis could become part of the one-two punch at tight end with Kyle Rudolph the Vikings were looking for when they signed Carlson.
In his fourth season in Oakland, Brandon Myers has a career high with 28 receptions that leads the Raiders.
The 2009 sixth-round draft pick from Iowa, has only 16 starts in 48 games, and has yet to catch a touchdown. Of course with quarterbacks like JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski and Jason Campbell that explains most of it.
In the last year of his contract, perhaps the Vikings could make a deal for Myers, assuring the Raiders they end up with something for the four-year veteran.
This is a wish list, right?
The Vikings desperately need a wide receiver that can stretch the field and complement the ability of Percy Harvin, who is currently second in the NFL with 53 receptions, one behind Wes Welker of the Patriots.
Eric Decker, the Broncos third-round draft pick from Minnesota in 2010, with Peyton Manning throwing him passes leads Denver with 34 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns. His 13.0 yards per catch average is two yards greater than that of Harvin's.
Currently tied for first in the AFC West with a 3-3 record, the Broncos may not be in any hurry to make a deal.
The Cowboys, like the Vikings were a playoff team in 2009. And like the Vikings they stumbled in 2010 to a 6-10 record.
While they didn't hit the same rock bottom the Vikings did last season, they seem to be floundering this season. Currently two games behind the Giants in the NFC East, they have struggled to a 3-3 record.
Wide receiver Miles Austin, an undrafted rookie free agent signed by the Cowboys in 2006, has averaged 64 receptions and 980 yards the last three seasons since breaking into the starting lineup. He's currently third on the Cowboys with 25 catches with a 17.1 average and leads the team with four touchdowns.
Perhaps the seven-year veteran could provide the lift the Vikings were hoping for when they signed Michael Jenkins.
By now every NFL fan knows that Dwayne Bowe wants out of Kansas City. Jason Cole from Yahoo Sports, tweeted just that last Wednesday. The 2007 first-round draft choice is playing under the franchise tag for the Chiefs, and is being paid $9.5 million for this season.
Since the departure of Tony Gonzalez in 2009 to the Falcons, Bowe has been the Chiefs leading receiver. Over the last three seasons he's averaged 67 catches for 970 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2010 he led the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions.
The addition of Bowe to the Vikings offense would add another legitimate weapon to quarterback Christian Ponder's arsenal, along with Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph and Adrian Peterson.