One of the many takeaways I have from the Vikings’ pair of splashy wide receiver transactions this past weekend is that Jarius Wright figures to be one of the primary beneficiaries. Opportunity is pounding on the door for Wright, and the timing couldn’t be better as he enters the final season of his rookie contract.
When I heard about the Vikings’ trade for Mike Wallace, I wasn’t surprised. Everyone knows they tried to land him in 2013 before he signed with the Dolphins – opting for “palm trees versus trees with no leaves” as Wallace mentioned in his conference call with media on Saturday.
My immediate thought upon hearing the Wallace news was, “I wonder what happens with Greg Jennings and his big contract now?” It didn’t take long to find out.
Once Jennings was let go, I had two primary responses: “I wonder if Chad Greenway is the next one up for a contract restructuring or release?” followed by “I wonder if Jarius Wright realizes he’s the No. 1 slot receiver on this team as of today?”
We’re still waiting to find out what the Vikings’ plans are for Greenway.
At this point, however, Wright has probably heard opportunity knocking. Or perhaps he heard his offensive coordinator Norv Turner tell Paul Allen on KFAN Monday morning that he likes where things are with the receiving corps, specifically mentioning Wright several times.
“I like our receiver situation. Jarius Wright came on and really played well the second half,” Turner proclaimed in response to a question about possibly of the Vikings still drafting a wide receiver.
When PA asked a follow-up question about the slot receiver situation, Wright was the player that Coach Turner pointed to immediately. “We ended up playing Jarius in the slot a great deal with Greg [Jennings] playing outside because that speed matchup was so good with Jarius,” Turner said, recalling the deep fades and deep crossing patterns Wright reeled in this past season.
“I like the fact that we can get Jarius’ speed in there [at the slot],” Turner added. “It’s a hard matchup, particularly if they want to start doubling people on the outside.”
Norv gets it. He’s forgotten more about NFL offenses than you or me, or most humans, will ever know. He realizes the NFL is built on creating matchup problems, and that’s what he views Jarius as – a problem for defenses, specifically if they opt to double-cover the speedy Wallace. The new guy’s speed is well-documented. It’s his calling card.
Remember, as Norv alluded to, Wright has some wheels, too. He recorded a 4.42 in the 40 during his combine workouts in 2012. Wright has parlayed that speed into explosive plays periodically throughout his three seasons with the Vikings, most notably in Week 14 this past season. His 87-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Jets in December is the second-longest overtime passing touchdown in NFL history.
That big play against the Jets was the highlight of Wright’s best season to date. He finished 2014 with career highs in targets (62), receptions (42) and yards (588). Hardly breathtaking numbers, but he seemed to click with Teddy Bridgewater as a third or fourth receiving option for much of the season.
While Wright’s straight-line speed is undeniable, as Arif Hasan pointed out here at Vikings Journal, Wright doesn’t exactly measure up to Jennings in terms of diversity of routes. The Vikings saved themselves some salary cap room by releasing Jennings, but they also lost an accomplished, well-rounded, receiver and a good guy. That’s the price of doing business in today’s NFL.
Jennings’ departure is Wright’s gain. Wright is set to earn $1.54 million in 2015 and will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season. What better time to cash in on a golden opportunity? It certainly sounds like Turner has plans to continue leveraging his speed from the slot.
Then again, the Vikings still could take a wide receiver in the early rounds of the draft and alter Wright’s outlook in yo-yo fashion yet again. In my latest mock draft, I have the Vikings going with an offensive lineman in round one, but a wide receiver isn’t out of the question with that first pick. And this is a deep wide receiver class, so grabbing one in the subsequent rounds is absolutely an option should they go a different direction in round one.
For now, though, as we sit here on St. Patrick’s Day, Wright is the lucky one with a great opportunity.
Meanwhile, the Vikings’ PR team seems focused on diverting everyone’s attention away from the initial reports that Wallace wasn’t happy about being traded to the Vikings – and the frequent reports that that he’s a malcontent in general – with feel-good content intended to assure everyone that Wallace really likes it here.
Speaking of Vikings’ PR challenges, I can’t believe I made it through an entire post without mentioning a certain unhappy running back.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell