The Minnesota Vikings don’t play in Week 7, but they have to feel good about a 5-1 start after an uncertain offseason that could have sent the team into turmoil. Instead, the Vikings have a top-15 offense and defense (14th on O, 11th on D) and a two-game division lead in the NFC North, including a 3-0 record against their rivals.
With optimism brewing inside U.S. Bank Stadium, yet knowing the team is far from Super Bowl favorites, the Vikings could easily become buyers ahead of the Nov. 1 NFL trade deadline. There are barriers, such as having limited cap space ($1.3M) and being without their fourth, sixth, and seventh-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, but these obstacles can always be overcome.
Whether it’s a contract restructure from a veteran player, tapping into 2024 draft capital, or even parting with an existing member of the team, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah can get creative if the right talent can be added for a proper price. With that said, here are four potential impact players who the Vikings could trade for to help propel a postseason push.
Daron Payne joins a top pass-rush tandem
Adding Za’Darius Smith to a core that already featured Danielle Hunter rushing off the edge has proven to be a wise move. Smith racked up an astonishing 11 pressures against Miami and leads the team with 5.5 sacks. DJ Wonnum and Patrick Jones II have established themselves as serviceable rotational rushers as well. This is great, but it primarily helps the Vikings create pressure along the edge, but what about the interior?
Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, and Jonathan Bullard form the defensive interior in Minnesota, and we’ve seen both Tomlinson and Phillips create pressure as well as stuff the run on multiple occasions, but the third starter remains a weakness. Just before the season began, presumed starter Armon Watts was let go, while Adofo-Mensah traded for Ross Blacklock. After landing in Minnesota via trade, Blacklock has played just 64 snaps and gotten just one tackle, and Bullard has played just 39% of the team’s snaps. Both minor roles.
That’s where Washington’s Daron Payne comes in. The Commanders may be receptive to trading their 2018 first-round pick since the defensive tackle is in the final year of his contract. Still 25, Payne is likely to command eight figures in free agency, as teams will have great interest in the 6-foot-3, 320-pound lineman.
Payne has developed a reputation for being able to create pressure right in the face of QBs, rushing from the interior. He has 18 sacks across 70 games, which is a fair number for a DT. While his run defense grade has slipped the past two years, Payne has shown an ability to be an above-average run-stuffer in the past too, making him an ideal fit as the final piece along the Vikings’ defensive line.
Expected to bring in a Day 2 pick while also needing to be paid at the end of the season, trading for Payne may prove too rich for Minnesota’s blood. Then again, knowing that Payne’s next contract is expected to be a fairly healthy amount, any team that loses Payne in free agency would likely receive a third-round compensatory pick, depending on how much they spend themselves. Meaning trading something like a second or a third plus a late-round selection may be worth the rental.
Minnesota Vikings add another weapon with Mike Gesicki
Another player who’s rumored to be available is Miami Dolphins star tight end Mike Gesicki. Currently playing out the season on the franchise tag for $10.9 million, the Dolphins haven’t been able to find common ground on a long-term contract, and it may have something to do with what new coach Mike McDaniel expects out of his tight ends. Coming from San Fran, McDaniel demands that his tight ends are above-average blockers. The 6-foot-6 Gesicki is more known for his pass-catching abilities, but he’s also very good at it.
Still, with other field-stretching targets who don’t block like Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, it’s possible Gesicki has priced himself out of Miami’s market. Yet, he’s also one of the best tight ends in football not named Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Darren Waller. Gesicki may not be a 1,000-yard threat, but the Vikings don’t need another one of those.
Justin Jefferson will always be the 1A and 1B in the Minnesota offense, but they have missed Kyle Rudolph ever since he departed as a free agent after 2020. Tyler Conklin proved to be a fine one-year stopgap, and the jury’s still out on Irv Smith as he gets further removed from a serious knee injury. While many were unsure of just how much the Kevin O’Connell offense would utilize tight ends after coming over from the L.A. Rams, it’s been obvious through six weeks that Kirk Cousins still targets his insurance policies often.
It only makes sense to look into the price to acquire the 27-year-old Gesicki, as he’d immediately add another threat to the Minnesota passing offense. Signing him long-term or fitting Gesicki under the cap could be another story, but it’s nothing cap specialist Rob Brzezinski hasn’t overcome in the past.
Minnesota gets a new slot corner by trading for Desmond King
The Vikings thought they had solved a crucial part of their struggles when it comes to pass defense by signing veteran Chandon Sullivan to be the team’s nickelback in free agency. Only, the deal proved to be too good to be true. Sullivan’s graded as the 90th-best cornerback through six weeks, posting a pitiful coverage grade of 42.2 according to Pro Football Focus. While those paying close attention to the action can tell you, Sullivan has picked up his play as of late, which is to be expected when learning a new scheme, but if they have hopes of reaching the postseason, can the Vikings really afford to gamble on Sullivan coming around?
Sullivan has allowed a catch on 82.8% of his targets, allowing 347 yards and a touchdown. Compare that to Houston Texans veteran cornerback Desmond King, who’s allowed a catch on just 61.1% of his targets, allowing 131 yards and no scores, and it’s easy to see just how much of an improvement the former All-Pro corner would be in purple.
The best part about potentially trading for King is that he’s 27 years old, and has just one year left on his contract, meaning he may not be in Houston’s future plans. Signed for an affordable $2.5 million in 2022 and just $4.4 million in 2023, King would not only be a steal, but he’d finally solve the team’s need for a reliable third cornerback. They can figure out the rest later, hoping Andrew Booth can still make an impact in his rookie season, but 32-year-old Patrick Peterson only continues to age, albeit gracefully. King could likely be had for a Day 2 selection.
Jeremy Chinn brings another playmaking presence to Vikings D
The last player on our wish list is probably untouchable. But it never hurts to ask. The Carolina Panthers are headed for what could be the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. After firing head coach Matt Rhule, and trading both Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson, their days of trying to compete in 2022 are cooked.
That doesn’t necessarily mean safety Jeremy Chinn, the team’s second-round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, is available via trade, but the Vikings should still ask what the price may be. Vikings fans painfully know the type of impact Chinn can make all too well after the 6-foot-3 playmaker returned two fumbles for touchdowns in his rookie season to beat Minnesota 28-27. He’s been on the map ever since.
The problem is, he’s one of several extremely talented young defenders left on Carolina’s roster, and they’re in the business of building a football team too. Chinn likely can’t be pried away for anything less than a first-round pick, and that’s if GM Scott Fitterer is even willing to pick up the phone in regards to a potential Chinn trade.
Ignoring logic, dreaming with purple-tinted glasses, Chinn would be an incredible fit in Minnesota’s defense. He’s more like Harrison Smith in that he’s a safety/linebacker hybrid who frequently plays in the box, at the line of scrimmage, or deep in zone coverage downfield. Here’s the thing, like Harry the Hitman, Chinn can do it all extremely well. Sure, the Vikes selected Lewis Cine in the first round, and we’ve yet to see what he can do after an unfortunate injury, but right now they have issues in coverage, and Cam Bynum isn’t living up to the task.
Even with Cine on-hand long-term, Chinn can fit into this puzzle. Smith is still playing at a Pro Bowl level, even at 33, but there will be a time when he hangs up the cleats. Chinn would be the perfect replacement, allowing Cine to slowly work his way back to the field. A defensive backfield of Harrison Smith, Jeremy Chinn, and Pat Pete, plus Cam Dantzler, suddenly looks capable of hanging with any opponent. But pulling off the heist may be a different story.