After the first five games of the 2020 season, there was still some hope that the Vikings might be able to turn things around and contend for a wild-card berth in an expanded postseason field. They had played well in three straight games, beating the Texans and falling by one point apiece to the Titans and Seahawks, who are two of the NFL's three remaining unbeaten teams.
In Week 6, it became abundantly clear that the Vikings will not be making a playoff appearance this season. They were thrashed at home by the previously winless Falcons, looking lifeless and noncompetitive on both sides of the ball. Heading into their bye week, the 1-5 Vikings are far closer to having a top-five pick (27.7 percent chance, according to Football Outsiders) than they are to making the playoffs (5.8 percent).
With that in mind, it's time for the Vikings' front office to start looking towards 2021 and beyond. And that means having serious conversations about trading away some key veterans over this bye week to create salary cap relief and acquire additional draft capital.
Here are four players who could realistically be traded ahead of the Nov. 3 deadline – which is less than two weeks away – ordered from most to least likely to be shopped. Plus, stick around to the end for some thoughts on a few other names not listed here.
Left tackle Riley Reiff
Reiff is the most obvious trade candidate on the Vikings' roster for a number of reasons. He was nearly cut prior to the season until he changed his mind and agreed to a restructured contract, which tells you that the team has already begun thinking about life without their veteran left tackle. That was first made clear back in April when the Vikings selected Ezra Cleveland in the second round to be their LT of the future.
One way or another, Reiff probably isn't going to be on the Vikings' roster in 2021 due to his age (he'll be 32) and cap hit (just shy of $14 million). Despite all of the experimentation the team is doing with Cleveland at guard, the Boise State product still projects best at tackle from a long-term perspective. So if Cleveland is the 2021 LT and Reiff would likely be released after this season, why not trade him to a contender now? The Vikings could get a decent pick in return and would be able to start getting Cleveland some NFL reps at his most natural position.
Adding to the likelihood of this happening is that a strong start to the season from Reiff has presumably raised his trade value a bit. He's played at a high level so far in 2020, allowing zero sacks and just five pressures in six games. There are a number of teams who could use a veteran tackle; the Titans just lost starting LT Taylor Lewan for the season and the Cowboys' Tyron Smith might be out for the year. Teams like the Bengals and Chargers need help on the offensive line in front of their rookie quarterbacks.
It's not a sure thing, but trading Reiff seems like a fairly straightforward decision for the Vikings.
Potential suitors: Titans, Cowboys, Bengals, Chargers
Potential compensation: Third or fourth-round pick
Safety Anthony Harris
Harris is another player who may not be in the team's plans past this season. He's currently playing on the franchise tag because the Vikings were unable (or declined) to work out a long-term contract with him this offseason. They received serious interest from teams like the Browns and Giants earlier this year, so there's reason to believe a trade is a real possibility.
Unlike with Reiff, the Vikings don't have Harris's future replacement waiting in the wings. Trading him would mean starting Josh Metellus or George Iloka at safety for the rest of the season, which would be a significant downgrade at an important position. But that shouldn't matter. This team isn't going anywhere, so if they're able to find good value for Harris on the trade market, they should pounce on the opportunity. If you don't want to pay him next year, move him now and get something in return.
The aforementioned Browns are a team to watch when it comes to Harris. As mentioned, they showed interest in the offseason. And they're contenders at 4-2 despite getting some of the worst safety play in the league from starters Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph. Kevin Stefanski's familiarity with Harris doesn't hurt, either. It's a move that could make sense for both sides. Harris has regressed a bit this year, but he didn't lead the league in interceptions in 2019 by accident.
Potential suitors: Browns, Cowboys, Buccaneers
Potential compensation: Third-round pick
Tight end Kyle Rudolph
Bringing up the idea of trading Rudolph might seem sacrilegious considering he's the team's longest-tenured player and a beloved figure in the Twin Cities community, but the NFL is a business. Even though Rudolph has said he wants to stay in Minnesota, the Vikings should seriously consider moving him if there's interest around the league.
Right now, the Vikings aren't really using Rudolph as a receiver. He's on pace for just 328 yards and three touchdowns, both of which would be career-lows for a full season. Plus, Irv Smith Jr. has seemingly emerged as the top tight end in this offense in recent weeks. Smith has eight catches for 109 yards over the past two games, which nearly equals Rudolph's ten catches for 123 yards on the season. Smith played more snaps than Rudolph in Week 6, which was just the second time that has happened since the Vikings drafted him.
Trading Rudolph would cement Smith as the clear No. 1 receiving option at tight end, and it would allow the Vikings to take a longer look at Tyler Conklin or Brandon Dillon as a potential No. 2. More importantly, Rudolph's contract – he's signed through the 2023 season for more than $9 million per year – would be off of their books.
The Patriots jump out as a possible trade partner. Cam Newton desperately needs more weapons in the passing game, and Rudolph would be a major upgrade over current tight end Ryan Izzo. Newton loved throwing to Greg Olsen during his time in Carolina, so Rudolph would likely have a bigger passing-game role in New England than he does in Minnesota right now. Several other contenders could theoretically have interest in adding an experience TE who can block and is a major red zone threat.
Potential suitors: Patriots, Cardinals, Steelers
Potential compensation: Day 3 pick
Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue
Would the Vikings really trade Ngakoue away just two months after trading for him? It might be more realistic than you think. When they sent a second-round pick to Jacksonville for Ngakoue in late August, they were envisioning pairing him with Danielle Hunter and giving themselves an elite edge rushing duo for years to come. But Hunter's injury turned out to be more serious than anticipated, and he might be out for the season. Suddenly, the Vikings are 1-5 and Ngakoue hasn't been able to carry a weak defensive line that's missing Hunter and nose tackle Michael Pierce.
Whether or not they trade Ngakoue could come down to his plans for the future. If he wants to sign a long-term deal with Minnesota and play with Hunter in 2021 and beyond, the Vikings shouldn't give up on seeing that pairing in action. But if Ngakoue is planning on leaving in free agency this offseason, getting something for him now might be the best course of action. They should be trying to figure out how he's feeling right now, even though things can change.
Ngakoue has five sacks in the last five games, and his talent makes him an enticing trade piece for contenders looking for a boost in their pass rush. The Cardinals could look to add a replacement for Chandler Jones, who is out for the year. The Seahawks, Chiefs, and Bills could also use a playmaking edge rusher like Ngakoue. Getting anything less than a second-rounder would come with bad optics for the Vikings, and even ending up with a late second instead of their own early second isn't ideal, but it's better to get something than to watch Ngakoue walk next spring.
Potential suitors: Cardinals, Seahawks, Chiefs, Bills
Potential compensation: Second-round pick
- Adam Thielen – I don't think a Thielen trade can be ruled out entirely, but I do think it's pretty unlikely. This team has no depth at receiver as is, and Thielen looks like he'll remain productive for several years to come. They should keep him and Justin Jefferson paired together, regardless of who the QB will be going forward.
- Harrison Smith – Harris strikes me as the more likely of the two safeties to be traded, but a Smith trade is within the realm of possibility. It would probably only happen in the event that the Vikings commit to a full teardown and rebuild. The four trades suggested above could happen even if the Vikings plan on trying to contend in 2021.
- Kirk Cousins – The No. 1 question facing this franchise is what to do with Cousins going forward, but that's a topic for another article. A trade is the best way to move on without being in financial hell, but who the heck is going to trade for Cousins with the way he's playing right now?
- Danielle Hunter – If the Vikings wanted to go nuts and tear everything down, Hunter is their most valuable trade asset. But his health situation complicates things a bit, and he's young enough to be part of a rebuilding process. They shouldn't trade Hunter for anything short of a Khalil Mack-esque return.
- Eric Kendricks – Like Smith and Hunter, this would only happen if the Vikings are blowing it all up and starting over. Middle linebackers like Kendricks are tough to find.
- Anthony Barr – It seems fairly unlikely that Barr is a Viking in 2021, but his season-ending injury means they'll have to wait until the offseason to move on.
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