The course of the Minnesota Vikings’ franchise almost changed in one of the most fascinating what-if scenarios of the 2021 NFL Draft. Minnesota was aiming to take Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields in the first round.
ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin penned a fascinating report full of inside information on the Vikings’ pursuit of Fields on Day 1 of the draft:
The Vikings were […] preparing to take Fields given the way the board was falling. As Minnesota watched Carolina and Denver pass on Fields at Nos. 8 and 9, their distant dream suddenly felt like it could become a reality. With Vikings ownership in the main draft room, front-office personnel worked the phones and tried to see where they might have to move up to land Fields.ESPN report on Minnesota Vikings trying to trade up for Justin Fields in 2021 NFL Draft
The reported added that Minnesota was “stunned” when the NFC North rival Chicago Bears traded a 2022 first-round pick as part of a package to move up from 20th to 11th to ultimately land Fields as their hopeful franchise savior. If Fields were still there at the Vikings’ initial pick, 14th overall, they would’ve taken him.
So not only did Minnesota miss out on potentially acquiring a long-term upgrade over incumbent QB Kirk Cousins, but now they have to play against Fields twice a year for the next decade-plus, presuming he pans out in the Windy City.
That really has to burn, because the Vikes had plenty of draft capital to play with and could’ve even used a disgruntled veteran such as pass-rusher Danielle Hunter as a trade chip.
Vikings should’ve been more aggressive with Justin Fields trade
Entering the 2021 NFL Draft, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman had three third-round picks, three fourth-round picks and two fifth-round picks to play with.
Granted, Spielman did quite well, especially after moving back from 14th to 23rd in a trade with the New York Jets and still getting a new left tackle in Christian Darrisaw. However, now that we’re looking back at Minnesota losing out on Fields, this looks a lot worse.
Cousins can’t make plays out of the structure of the offense. He needs an elite running game like the Vikes have with tailback Dalvin Cook in order to thrive. Just imagine for a second what a dual-threat playmaker like Fields could’ve done alongside Cook in the backfield.
There’s something to be said for exercising patience and letting the board fall to you if you’re in charge of an NFL team. In this case, Spielman had the chance, and the means, to go get a potential franchise-changing QB in Fields and simply didn’t do it.
So what if Fields had to sit for a year behind Cousins? Picking someone in the first round means there’s a fifth-year option included in the contract, and if Fields was a hit, it’d get picked up, of course. Plus, that whole sit-for-a-year scenario worked out pretty nicely for Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, did it not?
It’s baffling when teams sit on their hands, content with their solid-but-not-spectacular QB depth chart, and continue to chip away at fringe playoff contention. The Vikings have never won a Super Bowl. They played not to lose here, rather than playing to win, and it burned them badly.
Justin Fields truly altered the NFC North’s balance of power
A mere 24 hours before the 2021 NFL Draft opened, who could’ve fathomed just how much Fields would fundamentally change the course of an entire division?
Think about it. In that span, the leak that Aaron Rodgers is refusing to return to the Green Bay Packers dropped. Then, Fields got drafted by Chicago to give the team actual hope at the most important position for the first time in years. Now it turns out that the Bears actually outbid a heated rival to get him, making their victory even sweeter.
This is all just absolutely mind-bending.
Fields hasn’t proven anything yet in the NFL, but with only Andy Dalton and Nick Foles to overcome on the Bears’ QB depth chart, he’s bound to see action sooner rather than later. If head coach Matt Nagy lives up to his “offensive genius” label with a signal-caller he actually likes as opposed to Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago could really be on to something.
And you know, the Vikings will still have Cousins, probably, through 2022. Have fun with that.
Although Spielman did address the position in the third round by drafting Kellen Mond — who could surprise many and push Cousins sooner than is expected — unless the Texas A&M product winds up a future star, Minnesota could rue the day it didn’t get quite greedy enough to draft Fields.