Thank you for submitting questions for this week’s Vikings mailbag. You can always send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or email@example.com, and listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast or find them here on Friday mornings. Let’s get to it.
Q: What players present the most realistic and logical trade value? Harris? Reiff? Rudolph? I don’t want to get rid of everything, but it’s time to get leaner and make sure we get a top 10 draft pick. — @SpencerLegred
AK: Those three were mentioned by Ben Goessling in our latest Access Vikings podcast, and they make sense given safety Anthony Harris is a free agent, and the front office could move on from left tackle Riley Reiff and tight end Kyle Rudolph after this season, so why not move now? That’s what they just did with Yannick Ngakoue, perhaps too early if you’re looking to maximize your returns. Ngakoue was already up to five sacks in six games and, at that trajectory for the season, could’ve commanded more than a third-round pick next spring. The problem is you’re not really selling too high on anybody else on the roster they might consider moving. In lieu of a new deal with Harris, trading him as soon as possible makes the most sense. But he hasn’t been the same lights-out cover man in this version of the defense, so maybe the suitors aren’t as plenty. Same goes for Rudolph, who still seems like a fit for just a few teams, but those teams include the Patriots with Cam Newton. The Vikings could ship Rudolph to a potential playoff team and potentially recoup a mid-round pick on a contract they might have to redo or cut this spring.
Q: Is this season going to be valuable development time for the rookie defensive backs, or is there a danger their confidence is destroyed? — @paulh66runs
AK: You can’t destroy Jeff Gladney’s confidence. While I can’t claim to know him personally at such depth, his favorite player growing up in northeast Texas was Deion Sanders, his dad used to call him “Little Prime,” and in his fifth NFL game he got into a shoving match with Seahawks receiver D.K. Metcalf, who is by any definition not a small person. With that said, yes this 2020 season is even more about developing young talent after the Yannick Ngakoue trade, which opens up playing time for Jalyn Holmes and rookie D.J. Wonnum, among others. Gladney and Cameron Dantzler have already been given the green light ahead of Mike Hughes, who we’ll get to in a second, signaling a changing of the guard at cornerback as coaches try to develop the new guys over the third-year, often-injured Hughes. If having a bad game against Aaron Rodgers or a bad sequence against Russell Wilson wrecks long-term confidence, the prospects of a long NFL career for anyone at cornerback might be slim.
Q: Mike Hughes, is it possible to know if he’s any good yet? — @donraul007
AK: That’s a good question, considering Hughes has been available for only 24 of 38 NFL regular season games at this point, and he exited the 24th game last Sunday after 13 snaps due to a neck injury that has continually popped up over the past year. His 2019 season ended due to a fractured vertebra in his neck, and he missed two games earlier this season due to a listed neck injury before leaving the Falcons game with the same designation. I’d go as far as to say Hughes is good when he’s healthy, but that’s the problem. He had nine deflections, two forced fumbles and a pick last year, and that was all within a 10-game span from Weeks 5-16. He didn’t debut until Week 3 due to the torn ACL from 2018, and was out by the season finale due to the neck fracture. There’s a decision due this spring on his fifth-year option, which at this point seems unlikely to be picked up given the injury history.
Q: Would things be different if the Vikings had lost in the playoffs against the Saints? — @rgonzalez021991
AK: This is fair consideration, given how Kirk Cousins’ first playoff win as an NFL quarterback has been cited frequently by general manager Rick Spielman after this offseason’s two-year, $66 million extension. Spielman again Thursday defended the decision, pointing to Cousins’ 2019 season as evidence he can lead a contending team, while admitting the Vikings’ current roster, particularly on defense, is developing and learning on the job. If the Vikings have any thought of moving on from Cousins after this season, Spielman wasn’t tipping his hand, nor was he expected to. Cousins doesn’t have a no-trade clause in this contract, meaning the Vikings could move on from him if they find a trade partner and are willing to eat $20 million in dead money against the 2021 salary cap.
Q: With the news of Hunter needing surgery. Zim and staff called it “just a tweak” [in] camp. Obviously, it’s more serious. Does this point to incompetence? — @TacoSake
AK: From Spielman to Zimmer, the Vikings have indicated they did not know the extent of — or “we didn’t know where Danielle was at,” Spielman said Thursday — with the neck injury as late as the Ngakoue trade on Aug. 30, which was two weeks after Hunter last practiced. They were hopeful he’d return at some point this season, but it’s certainly possible they projected that optimism beyond what they actually believed, as neither Spielman nor Zimmer are publicly forthcoming or trustworthy about injuries. Without much transparency, fans are left to wonder about incompetence. After seeking a second opinion from another doctor in New York earlier this month, Hunter decided this week he’ll undergo surgery to repair the reported cervical herniated disc that has kept him out since Aug. 14.