A couple weeks ago, as the Vikings sat at 1-5 and were seemingly flying fast toward a lost season, colleague Mark Craig took a somewhat whimsical look at the “Tank for Trevor” sweepstakes shaping up all over the NFL.
He went week by week to determine the biggest loser — and therefore the winner of the right to draft Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence — and found that three wins was likely going to be too many for any team coveting the QB. He concluded that Jacksonville was the most likely Lawrence destination but he had the Vikings in the mix until Week 11.
Two weeks after that exercise, we probably have to consider the surging Vikings cooked in the race. At 3-5, with a surprising win at Green Bay followed by a convincing win over Detroit, the Vikings are moving more toward the middle of the draft pack than the top of the order.
As discussed on a recent Access Vikings podcast, the Vikings were in somewhat of a Catch-22 in those sweepstakes anyway.
My take: If the Vikings were going to be bad enough that they had a chance to draft Lawrence, it likely would mean Kirk Cousins was going to continue to struggle mightily through the rest of this season or suffer a major injury. But that sort of season combined with his salary make him much harder to trade this offseason, the sort of move necessary to clear the way for a rookie QB to take over.
On the flip side, a resurgence of Cousins — while making it easier to conceive of a trade — would likely lead to more wins and zero chance to get Lawrence while also giving the Vikings more reason to stick with Cousins in 2021 and beyond.
As it stands, the latter has played out. Though Dalvin Cook has done the bulk of the work in the last two wins — Cousins threw just 34 passes combined against Green Bay and Detroit, the vast majority of which didn’t travel very far in the air — Cousins did rank in the top 10 in the league each of the last two weeks in Total QBR.
Cousins avoided turnovers, made a few big throws and acted as a more than functional complement to Cook.
At 3-5 and with a favorable slate of games ahead of them, the Vikings are projected to win about seven games this season by both FiveThirtyEight and Football Outsiders. Combine both of those sites and their chances of making the playoffs still are around 20%.
A 7-9 finish would likely mean the Vikings would draft somewhere in the 13-15 range of the first round — not just out of “Tank for Trevor” territory but also out of range of Fail for (Justin) Fields or Lose for (Trey) Lance.
Zach Wilson of BYU (No. 16 in Todd McShay’s recent prospect rating) could be a target. Win (a few more) for Wilson?
But if we’re being honest, maybe this isn’t the worst thing? As I mentioned on that same podcast referenced above, it’s one thing to fantasize about a generational quarterback. It’s another to follow the path to get there.
1) The Vikings probably were never going to be bad enough to have a real chance at him, not with the Jets determined to lose every game (as they showed by blowing a late lead to the Patriots on Monday) and 2) When you go 1-15 or whatever it will take to get Lawrence, you signal that a long rebuild is ahead and concede that you are set to waste the prime of Cook, one of the very best non-quarterbacks in the league and someone to whom you just gave a long contract extension.
I think the Vikings need a succession plan to Cousins — maybe not an urgent one, but a plan nonetheless — because in order to win a Super Bowl and not just a single playoff game it sure seems like they either need to pay a QB a lot less to do the things he can do (thus freeing up money to spend on other critical positions) or they need to find a QB who can do a lot more for the price they are paying (thus giving them someone who can go win a game regardless of the talent around him).
But Tank for Trevor was never a realistic plan, and it’s probably a moot point now.