The Minnesota Vikings underachieved in 2018, finishing the year with a mediocre 8-7-1 record. A sexy preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, the Vikings missed the postseason altogether after reaching the NFC Championship the season prior.
Despite signing Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed contract last offseason, the Vikings’ offense regressed. While Cousins bares some of the blame, the onus is not all on him for the team’s offensive inadequacies. The offensive line was notably horrific, ranking 29th in the league by Pro Football Focus (PFF). According to PFF, linemen Tom Compton, Pat Elflein, and Mike Remmers gave up a whopping 18 sacks combined on the season.
The Vikings have other positional needs. They must add another running back to compliment starter Dalvin Cook. Unrestricted free agent tailback Latavius Murray indicated he is “not content with being in a backup role.” Murray started six games for the Vikings last season when Cook was hurt, but struggled mightily in those starts outside of his 155-yard performance versus the lowly Arizona Cardinals. Failing to demonstrate he is a reliable starter and unwilling to accept a backup job, Murray has likely played his last game with Minnesota.
Enhancing the offensive line and acquiring another running back will be something the Vikings prioritize in the offseason. If the Vikings choose the trade avenue to address these needs, who are some players they could acquire? Here are three trade targets for Minnesota.
1. La’el Collins
After starting at guard for his first two NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, La’el Collins was moved to right tackle before the 2017 campaign. Collins shined in 2015 and 2016–not allowing a sack in 14 starts over two seasons as the team’s left guard–but has been much less effective since transitioning to tackle. He gave up 47 quarterback pressures in 16 regular-season starts at right tackle, including an eye-popping eight sacks.
Collins was the most penalized Cowboys offensive linemen last season. In 18 games played, which includes the Cowboys’ two postseason contests, he drew 11 penalties. He did play better as the season went on, getting flagged just twice in the final 10 contests.
If the Cowboys are not pleased with Collins as a tackle, they may make him available for trade, especially since his contract is set to expire after the season. The Vikings could make a move for Collins and integrate him into the offense as a guard, his clear position of strength. Collins’ expiring contract includes a $9.9 million cap hit for 2019. Minnesota would be willing to absorb that cap hit if it believes Collins can return to his early-career form.
2. Chris Thompson
Having a familiar face in the backfield could reinvigorate Cousins. One of his favorite targets when quarterbacking the Washington Redskins, Chris Thompson could be a player the Vikings make a deal for.
Thompson, a receiving-first tailback, had his best two seasons with Cousins under center in Washington. He caught 49 passes for 349 yards and two scores in 2016, then followed that up with 39 receptions for 510 yards (13.1 yards per reception) and four TDs in 2017, Cousins’ final year with the Redskins.
A veteran running back, Thompson is an ideal player to replace Murray in the backfield. Washington may be willing to fork over Thompson if they re-sign Adrian Peterson, especially with Derrius Guice returning from a torn ACL that cost him his entire rookie season.
Thompson’s contract expires after 2019 and he carries a cap hit of merely $3.9 million for the upcoming season, making him an attractive trade target.
3. Duke Johnson
With the Cleveland Browns signing Kareem Hunt, Duke Johnson might be the odd-man out for the team’s running back corps. The unit is spearheaded by Nick Chubb, who is coming off a sensational rookie season.
Browns general manager John Dorsey said that adding Hunt “does not make him [Johnson] expendable yet.” It’s hard to envision that being true, though, after the Browns spent a second-round pick on Chubb last draft and undoubtedly plan on getting Hunt heavily involved in the offense. Hunt will eventually be suspended, but upon his return he will leapfrog Johnson in the rotation. While Johnson is much more of a pass-catching halfback, it’s tough to imagine he will see ample snaps at the expense of Chubb and/or Hunt, both of whom can catch passes out of the backfield.
The Vikings could broach the Browns about Johnson’s future in Cleveland. Johnson was underutilized last season–averaging 5.4 touches per contest–and could be on his way out the door regardless. If Cleveland wants to net a draft pick for Johnson, the Vikings can step in and offer the Browns a late-round draft pick.
Johnson is a much better talent in the open field as a pass-catcher than Murray. Johnson averaged 9.1 yards per reception last season and would give Cousins another weapon at his disposal.