Six weeks after Rick Spielman and the Vikings sent a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Jets for tight end Chris Herndon (and a 2022 sixth), the move already looks like the latest in a recent string of misguided, panic-induced trades by Minnesota's front office.
Two days before the trade, it was reported that Vikings starting TE and popular breakout candidate Irv Smith Jr. was set to undergo meniscus surgery that would keep him out for at least the start of the regular season. A few days later, we learned that Smith chose to have a full repair of his meniscus and would miss the entire season. With Tyler Conklin also banged up at the time, the Vikings felt like they needed another tight end. So they looked around the league, explored a few different options, and pulled the trigger on acquiring Herndon.
Initially, there was some optimism that a change of scenery would do big things for the 25-year-old, who had a promising 500-yard season as a rookie in 2018 but fell out of favor in New York over the past couple years. Perhaps Herndon could get back to that form and take advantage of an opportunity for significant playing time in a quality offense that used more multiple-TE sets than just about anyone last season.
It hasn't worked out at all.
Herndon played just 12 snaps in each of the first three games of the season, and that number fell to seven in Weeks 4 and 5. Since the Vikings claimed former UDFA Ben Ellefson on waivers prior to Week 2, Ellefson has out-snapped him 74 to 38. Herndon has just two targets and zero receptions, and managed to commit two killer penalties — a hold and an illegal crackback block — in his seven snaps against the Lions this past week.
The results haven't been there on the field, and Herndon clearly hasn't done enough in practice to earn more snaps. With little confidence in their non-Conklin tight ends, the Vikings have modified their use of personnel packages by leaning much more on three-receiver sets that include second-year breakout player K.J. Osborn.
The fact that Herndon can't get more snaps that someone like Ellefson — who had a rough game of his own against the Lions with a dropped pass and a sack allowed — is awfully concerning. Even if Ellefson were to miss this Sunday's game against the Panthers with a knee injury, I'm not sure Herndon would see much more playing time. The Vikings added veteran TE Luke Stocker to their practice squad this week and protected their other practice squad TE, Brandon Dillon, from being poached to another team's active roster.
Unless things turn around soon, there's no guarantee that Herndon continues to be active each week or even remains on the roster throughout the full season.
Sure, it's just a fourth-round pick that the Vikings gave up, but those can be valuable, even if the Vikings' track record in the fourth round in recent years is abysmal. The problem here is about the process, and the fact that this kind of thing keeps happening.
When the Vikings lose a key player right before the start of a season, they seem to always overreact and overpay to make sure they find a replacement, even if that player might not be the best fit. Look at last year with the infamous trade for Yannick Ngakoue, who played just six games in Minnesota before being flipped to the Ravens. With Danielle Hunter's injury status a bit of a mystery, the Vikings felt like they needed to go get a pass rusher, but the move failed miserably and wound up costing them 45 slots of premium draft capital.
Or go back to 2019, when the Vikings traded a fifth-rounder to the Ravens for kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik, who lasted all of three weeks until he was cut. A slightly older example from the Spielman era is when Teddy Bridgewater got hurt in 2016 and the Vikings used a first-round pick to acquire Sam Bradford. That one was a bit more understandable because of the urgent need for a starting-caliber QB to pair with an elite defense that had just been the catalyst of a division title, but it didn't work out either.
That the Vikings don't seem to have learned from their past mistakes is a problem. Adding Vedvik, Ngakoue, and now Herndon in August trades in three consecutive years, only for each one to backfire in different ways, reflects quite poorly on the front office.
Instead of panicking and feeling like a move needs to be made when a key player gets hurt, why not be patient, hold onto your picks, and figure it out slowly? The Vikings are playing a waiver claim in Ellefson over Herndon anyways, proving there's more than one way to add a capable player at a position of sudden need.
Maybe there's still time for Herndon to turn things around and make the trade a good one, but that's looking like a major longshot at this point. Instead, the trade appears to be yet another failed, reactionary move in a string of them that could contribute to making Spielman's seat warm if the Vikings miss the playoffs this season.
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