With the NFL trade deadline coming Tuesday, this will be an intriguing few days for the Vikings and their rabid fanbase. Will the franchise be buyers or sellers? Or both?
The most likely storyline could be moving on from veteran wide receiver K.J. Osborn who will be a free agent after this season. The Vikings will have pressing payroll needs next offseason and Osborn looks expendable with the arrival of 2023 first round draft choice Jordan Addison.
Osborn, in his fourth NFL season, would be a welcome addition to any number of NFL clubs. In return the Vikings might receive a fourth, fifth or sixth round draft choice. His expected replacement in the Minnesota lineup would be Brandon Powell, a capable fifth year veteran and journeyman playing with his fourth NFL club.
Left guard Ezra Cleveland is another player rumored in trade discussions. Although he will also be a free agent next year, the Vikings should not move on from him and shake up their best guard depth and offensive line performance in years.
A Vikings victory over the Packers today in Green Bay will improve their record to 4-4, with the team having won four of its last five games. A scenario like that figures to weigh on GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah not altering his roster much other than to take the opportunity to move Osborn and add a quality cornerback.
The GM has shown a past willingness to trade with teams in his own division. Corner Jaylon Johnson from the Bears could be a target. He is an impressive cover man (a starter since Game 1 as a rookie in 2020) who didn’t reach agreement in the past offseason on a contract extension. The Bears could move on from him, with former Gopher Terell Smith, a fifth-round draft choice last spring, as the replacement.
An easier “get” at corner likely is Donte Jackson from winless (0-6) Carolina who could be thinking fire sale before the trade deadline. Jackson is no Johnson, but he is experienced with six years in the pros and inexpensive at reportedly about a $1 million salary.
Adofo-Mensah has made past in-season moves to improve the roster. In 2022 he sent third and fourth round draft choices to the Lions in return for upgrading the tight end position with the addition of T.J. Hockenson. Several weeks ago, the Vikings signed veteran free agent offensive lineman Dalton Risner, a former starter for the Broncos.
With a touchdown catch today, Addison will become the sixth player in the Super Bowl era (1970 to present) to have at least seven receiving touchdowns in the first eight career games.
With 101 passing yards today, Viking quarterback Kirk Cousins will surpass Drew Brees (39,297 yards) for the third-most passing yards in a player’s first 150 career games in the NFL.
Looming over discussions and “mental gymnastics” involving salary cap numbers in the next offseason will be wide receiver Justin Jefferson’s contract extension. Most observers are surprised a new deal wasn’t done last summer. Why? Probably because the Vikings can make the numbers work better in 2024 with Jefferson targeting a deal to be the highest paid non-quarterback in the NFL.
With Vikings’ safety Harrison Smith turning 35 in February, the Vikings may not need to look far for his replacement. They are scouting Gophers’ safety Tyler Nubin who could be a first-round draft choice with his skills and competitiveness.
The Vikings, who are third in the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns, have zero touchdowns running in seven games. No other team is without a TD running the football.
Roger Goodell’s contract extension through 2027 may end quiet speculation that Kevin Warren, the former Vikings executive now leading the Bears’ management, could one day succeed Goodell as NFL commissioner. Warren turns 60 next month.
Bad timing? Coach Bret Bielema, 9-0 against the Gophers while coaching at Wisconsin and now Illinois, had a bye last Saturday and extra time to prepare for the Illini’s game at Minnesota next Saturday, November 4.
While the Wild’s ownership and management has a focus on this season, they are also thinking about the next offseason. It’s then the club is finished with the $14.5 million buyout of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter that has limited payroll for acquiring new talent because of the NHL salary cap.
Owner Craig Leipold told Sports Headliners he anticipates the NHL increasing the salary cap for teams by about $5 million next year. That amount, combined with Parise-Suter savings, will give the Wild close to $20 million in new money, a total Leipold believes will be more than any team in the league. “Billy (Guerin) is already looking (at) who could be free agents at that time, and, you know, we’re going to be active,” Leipold said.
Guerin has been the general manager for more than four years. That experience with the organization is comforting to Leipold.
“I think Billy is one of the top GMs in the league, maybe the top. He’s got a great staff of young people who work in his organization in the analytics side and in the signing of players. So we’ve got a really good core of young people in hockey ops that are there to support Billy and everything that he is doing. We think that we’ve got a great organization and, you know, they’re ready to be active in (developing and acquiring) players.“
The Wild is off to a 3-3-2 record this fall. The owner is impressed with the culture of his club, including the enthusiasm. “It’s just so apparent that this team is going to be an exciting team and they genuinely like each other. … It’s fun to watch them when they’re not playing; when I can get a little closer to them and see how they’re reacting with each other. …”
Leipold has a favorite player, and the choice might surprise fans. Forward Mason Shaw, now with the Iowa Wild, has willed himself back from four ACL surgeries. Leipold describes Shaw’s determination to play on and be a contributor as infectious. “…He’s the kind of guy that you cheer for every day because he’s had some bad breaks thrown his way,” Leipold said.
Dick Jonckowski, who had 19 calls and nine texts of birthday wishes on his milestone 80th last Sunday, will emcee the Old Timers Hockey Association luncheon November 20 at Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul.