Trading back in the draft is the best bet for Vikings

Published 9:57 am Thursday, March 13, 2014

Column: Notes from Nashville, By Andrew Dyrdal

The Minnesota Vikings solved on Friday their biggest need of the offseason: having a quarterback other than Christian Ponder on its roster.

Until the Vikings signed Matt Cassel to a two-year, $10 million contract, Ponder was sitting atop the team’s depth chart. Without Cassel, the Vikings would have had to look to free agency for a quarterback — with the unreliable 34-year-old Michael Vick as their best option — or draft one and burden a rookie quarterback with the responsibility of starting on Day 1.

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While the Vikings should still draft a signal caller within the first three rounds, signing Cassel was the team’s best option for many reasons:

• The Vikings sit in an awkward place in the draft for a team with a dire quarterback need. The top three quarterbacks — Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel — will likely be gone before Minnesota is on the clock, and the second tier players — Derek Carr, A.J. McCarron and Jimmy Garopollo — are not worthy of a top-eight pick.

The Vikings learned a lesson about reaching for a quarterback when they surprisingly drafted Ponder with the No. 12 pick in 2011, and the Vikings shouldn’t act as desperate this time around. Cassel will provide a bridge and time to allow a young quarterback to develop before taking the reigns.

• Because the Vikings no longer must trade away assets to move up in the draft and get a quarterback or reach with the eighth pick, the team and general manager Rick Speilman can focus on another big need in the first three rounds: defense.

The Vikings ranked last in almost every defensive category last season and will likely lose players like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams to free agency. Minnesota has young playmakers to build on but still needs plenty of help. While the team is in an awkward spot to draft a quarterback, it’s in a great place to grab a top-notch defender because at least five of the first seven picks are projected to be offensive players. If the Vikings stay put on draft day, they should be able to grab outside linebacker Khalil Mack or cornerback Justin Gilbert and go home happy.

• With Cassel in tow, the Vikings now have the flexibility to trade out of their first-round pick and gain additional selections. Minnesota has a lot of needs, and they don’t have enough draft picks or salary cap space to address them all this offseason. Trading back would allow them to fill more defensive holes yet still address the quarterback situation in the second or third rounds. Coveted players available late in the first round could include outside linebacker Anthony Barr, cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard, Bradley Roby and Kyle Fuller or defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ra’Shede Hageman.

I think the Vikings should trade back on Day 1 of the draft to grab an extra second- or third-round pick. The Vikings must take a quarterback in the second or third rounds, and since this is a deep year for quarterbacks and there are no sure things, trading up and taking one of the top three signal callers is too big of a risk for a team with plenty of needs elsewhere.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Tuesday.