The Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings are both getting ready to close out another disappointing season. Both teams are led by veteran coaches, but between them, only Mike Tomlin has ever won a Super Bowl as a head coach.
The Steelers are facing a lack of an identity as an organization with 18-year veteran Ben Roethlisberger likely to retire at the end of the season. There’s been no indication the Steelers are ready to move on from the 49-year old Tomlin, but there’s no telling what could happen next.
Missing the playoffs three of the past four seasons could lead to more of an organizational overhaul than some might anticipate. They’re already losing coaches from the staff.
Unable to turn the corner during the past few years, the Steelers have several areas to address before becoming a top contender again. A crumbling offensive line, no future quarterback, and an inability to run the ball have held the scoring attack back, yet their defense is also worse than it’s even been in the Tomlin era. This is backed up by their 26th ranked defense in yards allowed and 22nd ranked D in points allowed.
While it’s an uncommon occurrence, what if the Vikings’ general manager (currently Rick Spielman) pursued a trade for Tomlin, giving up draft capital in the process?
Let’s dive into a Mike Tomlin-Minnesota Vikings reunion.
Mike Tomlin reunion would leave Minnesota Vikings fans rejoiceful
Many Vikings fans are ready for change, in some form. Whether that means firing Mike Zimmer, trading Kirk Cousins, or moving on from GM Rick Spielman, they’re sick of barely competing every other year. It also doesn’t help when former members of the coaching staff go on to have success elsewhere. Last year, it was Kevin Stefanski winning Coach of the Year.
Before Stefanski experienced immediate success, it was Mike Tomlin. He departed from his position as the defensive coordinator on the Vikings after just one season under Brad Childress in 2007. Many felt the Wilfs and Spielman should have just hired Tomlin at that point, and in hindsight, they probably should have. Although, at the time, the 35-year old Tomlin lacked the resume to be a head coach, having never done so in his coaching career at any level. Skeptics were obviously wrong.
Childress was eventually fired, but not for another four years. By that time, Tomlin had already won a Super Bowl, in just his second year as a head coach.
Let’s not get it twisted, having Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, and a top-notch defense directly contributed to the early ring on Tomlin’s hand, but still, the coach has a 152-85-2 coaching record in his 15 years of NFL experience. He’s also never had a losing season, though that could change soon.
Like we’ve recently seen with Bill Belichick and Sean Payton, witnessing Tomlin without his Hall of Fame QB under center will be interesting. But there’s a case to be made that Big Ben hasn’t been himself for a number of years now. While the offense isn’t Tomlin’s area of expertise, it directly affects the field position his defense is set up with.
The Steelers may very well prefer to gamble on a new quarterback, hoping that’s their ultimate solution to becoming a true contender again, but if there’s even a chance of them moving on from Tomlin, the Minnesota Vikings need to be prepared, even if that means coughing up some precious assets along the way.
What could a Mike Tomlin trade to the Minnesota Vikings look like?
An NFL head coach has only ever been traded five times in the history of the league. Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Mike Holmgren, Herm Edwards and Jon Gruden. While rare, they do happen.
For the Steelers to even consider such a move, the trade proposal would have to be enticing. In what’s considered a draft light on first-round quarterback prospects, finding the heir to Ben Roethlisberger may not happen this year. The Steelers could find a way to accelerate that process.
What if they talked to Nathaniel Hackett, the Green Bay Packers‘ offensive coordinator, and liked him for a head coach position?
Aaron Rodgers is very fond of Hackett, going out of his way to endorse him as a head coaching candidate to other NFL teams. Maybe they align a Hackett-AR12 connection, by picking up the ammo to get Rodgers by swinging a Tomlin trade with the Vikings.
- Minnesota Vikings trade: 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick
- Pittsburgh Steelers trade: Mike Tomlin
If that sounds like a hefty amount, remember Jon Gruden was once traded for two firsts and two second-round picks.
The Vikings would be taking a large gamble by eschewing future draft picks for an established coach, but if they want to avoid an inexperienced leader by reconnecting with a familiar face, Tomlin would be their guy. The bonus would be getting Rodgers out of the division for good. If that’s the trade-off, it just may be worth it.
Why Mike Tomlin’s potential return isn’t as simple as a quick fix
The biggest potential roadblock to Round 2 of the Mike Tomlin-Minnesota Vikings relationship is the way the defense is built. Rick Spielman has always drafted the personnel for a 4-3 defensive front. The Steelers have primarily operated from a 3-4 defense since Tomlin got to town.
However, Tomlin’s background is rooted in the same Cover 2 zone the Vikings currently operate. Changing the way the front seven line up isn’t a necessity for him. Even if it is, the Vikings have a talented front that could likely be employed in a slightly different way.
Anthony Barr, thanks to his size and athletic profile, has always been seen as a better fit for 3-4 defenses, but he can also thrive in the 4-3 as we’ve seen. Danielle Hunter’s role wouldn’t change much either. It would be more about figuring out who the other two down-linemen would be. Michael Pierce seems to have a stronghold on the nose position, while Dalvin Tomlinson could likely be his neighbor.
Then we get to the rest of the linebackers, which is already a concern. Eric Kendricks is one of the best in the league, but where would the Vikes find two more linebackers to play with Barr and Kendricks? It wouldn’t be impossible, but as it stands right now, the defensive line has more depth, meaning four down-linemen make more sense than three.
Should Tomlin become available, figuring out whether he would stick with a 4-3 or 3-4 wouldn’t be a dealbreaker, it just requires a bit more communication with the scouts and the front office as they mold their defense. After all, no team operates out of just one package as nickel and dime coverages become more prevalent in the passing heyday of the modern game.
As crazy as it sounds, if the Minnesota Vikings fire Mike Zimmer, trading for a familiar head coach shouldn’t be completely dismissed.