To the Surprise of Most, the Vikings Will Draft a QB in the 2021 NFL Draft
The Minnesota Vikings may be more interested in a quarterback than it looks.
While Kirk Cousins is locked in as the starter for at least 2021, with his fully guaranteed contract that runs for two more seasons, the Vikings currently do not have a viable backup quarterback. Longtime backup Sean Mannion has yet to be re-signed, which means the Vikings may be more interested in taking a rookie quarterback somewhat early in the draft.
The Vikings will not be looking for a 2021 starter, but the idea of redshirting a rookie quarterback and letting him sit behind Cousins for 1-2 years is an intriguing one.
Cousins is an above-average starter and a borderline top ten quarterback, but at 32 years old, we know what he is as a player. The Vikings can win with Cousins, but it would require a top-end roster around him, which they currently do not have. We have seen other teams around the league make similar moves as well. The Kansas City Cheifs were a perennial playoff team under Alex Smith but always came up short in January. So they bet on the upside of Patrick Mahomes, and after letting him sit for a season, watched him set the league on fire.
The Vikings roster is not as talented as the Cheifs were, and they likely will not get the next Mahomes, but drafting a quarterback early with a ton of upside would be a sensible move.
General manager Rick Spielman has not shied away from splashy moves before. In 2014, Spielman traded back into the first round of the draft to take Teddy Bridgewater. When Bridgewater got injured before the 2016 season, he then traded another first-round pick for Sam Bradford.
After the Vikings reached the NFC Championship game under Case Keenum, Spielman again made a splash by signing Cousins to a fully guaranteed contract. There is certainly precedent for Spielman to try and make a move if a quarterback falls in the draft. The Vikings are not planning on having a draft pick this high in future seasons, and with a quarterback class this stacked, this would be the year to make a move.
A young quarterback would also give Spielman a bit of job security. There have been rumblings that Spielman, and head coach Mike Zimmer, are on the hot seat. This means they need to have a successful 2021 season. However, a young quarterback could also give them a bit of a cushion, as the team likely moves on from Cousins after his contract ends – if not earlier. Spielman might also be watching the 49ers and taking points from them. Jimmy Garappolo led the 49ers to a Super Bowl just last season, but earlier this offseason, the 49ers shocked the league by trading up to the 3rd overall pick.
While it is not clear which quarterback caught their eye, they will certainly pick one. Spielman likely knows he has hit the ceiling of this team with Cousins, and a young quarterback would give him a few more years to try and bring the Vikings their first Super Bowl.
Over the last few weeks, there have also been talks of quarterbacks falling in this draft. There are five quarterbacks this year projected to get drafted in the first ten picks. However, it is also likely that one of the quarterbacks start to fall in the draft. Outside of the top three picks, only Denver is interested in a quarterback. The fourth overall pick is going to be one to watch as well. There will likely be a bidding war between teams to trade into that pick to take a quarterback.
In the scenario that a quarterback does fall to around the 8th pick or later, this would be the best case for the Vikings. It would not be a big jump to trade up a couple of spots from 14, especially if it is a quarterback that the Vikings front office is high on.
The other option would be to draft a quarterback on day two. High upside players such as Davis Mills, Kellen Mond, and Jamie Newman, for example, are expected to be available on day two, and the Vikings could wait and pick one then. This would be more of a gamble, as recently there have not been many cases of day two and three quarterbacks working out. The most recent examples being Derek Carr, Russell Wilson, and Cousins.
The Vikings’ best chance at finding their quarterback of the future will be in the first round if the draft goes their way.
Thinking about the Future
The main reason for the Vikings considering a quarterback this year is because they are thinking of the future. Their free agency moves, which have included one-year deals to players such as Patrick Peterson, Xavier Woods, and Mackensie Alexander, suggest that they are in a win-now mode for 2021.
However, the roster makeup in 2022 and beyond looks shaky. Cousins will carry a 45 million cap hit in 2022, which is likely untenable. Spielman can use a rookie quarterback to extend his timeline as general manager while allowing for a quick retool of the roster. The Wilf brothers have shown that they are not interested in having full-on rebuilds, so if the Vikings want to be competitive once the Cousins contract runs out, looking for the future in this draft would not be a bad idea at all.
In the end, the decision to take a quarterback early will come down to how much of a leash Spielman and Zimmer. If they have been assured that they will keep their jobs, then drafting a quarterback makes a lot of sense. The Vikings are in a win-now mode this year, but they will likely have to move on from Cousins to remain competitive in future years, as his current cap hits are not ideal.
A rookie quarterback would give the Vikings an air of excitement for a team that has gotten a bit complacent the last couple of seasons. The lower cap number for a rookie would also allow the Vikings to build a roster similar to their 2017 one, which was a game away from the Super Bowl.