Nothing has changed. Sure, the record looks better and the mood in the locker room is happier, but the headline for the Vikings organization today should read: full steam ahead.
The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday and if the Vikings can move a veteran or two in exchange for draft picks, let ’er rip.
From the outside, it might seem odd to trade away, say, starting left tackle Riley Reiff on the heels of a surprising 28-22 win over the first-place Packers. Or veteran safety Anthony Harris, when the secondary is simultaneously holding open auditions for healthy defensive backs.
The Vikings had a really nice win Sunday. The directive from management still should be the same now that they are 2-5 instead of 1-6. The Vikings have commenced a rebuild, whether they admit it publicly or not. Stay the course.
“It just depends on what kind of offers we get or what kind of things we can come up with,” coach Mike Zimmer said after the game when asked how the win might affect the organization’s approach at the deadline. “It really has nothing to do with the wins at this point in time.”
It shouldn’t. The balance of this season should revolve around development of young talent.
Did you notice what happened at Lambeau Field? Zimmer played seven rookies on defense. Not in a preseason game. In a real game. Seven rookies. Against Aaron Rodgers.
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I half-expected Zimmer to tell us afterward that this is Year Zero.
Granted, playing seven rookies came out of necessity, not by design, as a nightmarish confluence of injuries forced Zimmer to dig to the absolute bottom of his depth chart for help.
But that’s precisely the point. Zimmer might age 10 years this season, but his team’s motto should be “Learning On The Job Together.”
The Vikings overestimated their ability to remain contenders this season by believing that a plug-and-play blueprint would work with their young players. But a combination of injuries, inexperience, opt-outs, one failed trade and poor performances by established players provided a clear view of their path forward.
The second half of this season is all about the youngsters. It’s about Justin Jefferson, Ezra Cleveland and Irv Smith Jr. on offense, and it’s about Zimmer’s boatload of rookies on defense, particularly the cornerbacks.
The ending to Sunday’s game offered a bit of irony. Rookie defensive end D.J. Wonnum had a sack/strip of Rodgers on the final play to secure the win. Wonnum was in that position because the team dealt Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore two weeks ago.
Trading for Ngakoue in the first place now looks like a panicked misstep spurred by Danielle Hunter’s neck injury. But the front office and coaching staff quickly realized that Ngakoue would not be a long-term fit so they recouped draft picks rather than lose him this offseason. His departure opened the door for young guys such as Wonnum to get more playing time.
And if the Vikings win some games along the way, that’s a good thing. Maybe not to fans who fantasize about Tanking for Trevor (Lawrence). Sorry to ruin that dream, but the Vikings aren’t in the same category as the New York Jets, who are flying down the 0-16 Autobahn.
The Vikings have played poorly or self-destructed at critical moments. They are not hopeless. Dalvin Cook’s talent is so special that he gives them a chance. But at 2-5 with myriad issues elsewhere on the roster, the future is more important than the present.
General Manager Rick Spielman has a few veterans who might attract offers. Reiff, Harris, maybe Kyle Rudolph. If some team tries to hoodwink Spielman into giving up Adam Thielen, he should hang up the phone. There’s a difference between rebuilding and setting the place on fire.
There’s also a difference between tanking and growing pains. The Vikings need to see what they have in their young players and hope they develop into foundational pieces. And they need to say yes to trade offers Tuesday that subtract veterans who are not part of their future and add draft picks or promising players.