The Vikings were just beaten by the 49ers for the second time in three months.
The first defeat — a 27-10 playoff punch in the nose — was a painful ending. The second loss — being outbid early in trade talks for Redskins left tackle Trent Williams — should be a blessing that will start sooner than you think.
That’s why Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman doesn’t mind taking that second defeat from the 49ers.
Spielman wouldn’t give details of his negotiations with the Redskins or contract talks with Williams’ agent, Vince Taylor. But he did confirm the point when the Vikings lost interest in fighting for Williams.
“I knew once we started seeing that Ezra Cleveland was going to fall to us [in the second round], we [were going to get] a young, talented offensive tackle that we’re going to have under contract for the next four years,” he said.
Had the Vikings acquired Williams, they would have inherited a problematic $12.5 million cap hit and salary demands that could only be fixed by overpaying an aging tackle well beyond his long-term worth. Not good for a team that’s $12.3 million under the cap and interested in returning to free agency to finish reinforcing its roster.
The Vikings also wouldn’t have drafted Cleveland — and his $1 million cap figure. Cleveland started 40 games at left tackle for Boise State.
And, finally, if the Vikings had acquired Williams, they would have released current left tackle Riley Reiff. That would have cleared $8.8 million in salary but would have cost the team $4.4 million in dead money and a still serviceable player.
With Reiff and Cleveland on the roster instead of Williams, the Vikings have more options to get things right up front in 2020. Reiff can be moved to left guard, where he would be an improvement over struggling Pat Elflein. Or he could, as Spielman put it, “hold down the fort” at left tackle until Cleveland is ready. And if Cleveland isn’t ready for left tackle, he has the position flexibility to join what Spielman called “an open competition” at guard.
Cleveland also is 21. Williams will turn 32 before this season and sat out all last season in an ugly spat that began with him accusing the Redskins of inadequate medical treatment involving a cancerous growth on his scalp.
Williams also missed three games in 2018. And 12 more over three Pro Bowl seasons (2015-17) as Kirk Cousins’ blindside protector.
Before the fourth round began Saturday, the 49ers dealt a fifth-round pick (156th) this year and a third-rounder next year for Williams. The deal made sense for the reigning NFC champions because left tackle became their only hole to fill when Joe Staley told San Francisco he was retiring.
According to NFL Network, Williams said during negotiations with the Vikings that he didn’t want to play in Minnesota. Williams and Taylor issued quick denials.
Williams said, “No, that’s not true.” Taylor issued a statement saying, “There has been false reporting that Trent and I objected to particular trades.”
To beat the 49ers’ offer, the Vikings would have had to pony up one of their two third-rounders, which they weren’t willing to do.
They took on a cornerback with the first of those picks. He was the second corner selected by a team that lost its top three.
The second of those picks was traded to New Orleans for picks in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. And those four picks became an interior pass rusher who had 13½ sacks last year, another cornerback, a tackle who started 48 games and a quarterback the team can develop.
Williams might still be an elite player. But the Vikings are better off with the money they saved and the picks they made than overpaying an aging tackle.