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Monday Morning Mailbag: Vikings Free Agency Arrivals & Departures; Flexibility from Trade

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What a wild week it was for the Vikings, who bid farewell to a couple of longtime team members and responded with a wave of additions in free agency. Our 2024 Free Agency Tracker (which we update once moves are official) had a little smoke coming from it last week. We'll keep updating it in the coming weeks as moves continue to happen.

View photos of Vikings S Harrison Smith from the 2023 season.

And if Harrison Smith, a six-time Pro Bowler, renegotiating his contract to come back for a 13th season wasn't enough excitement toward the end of the week, the Vikings got cooking Friday morning when General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah negotiated a trade with Houston to acquire the 23rd overall pick of the 2024 NFL Draft (to go along with already having the 11th selection).

There's a good chance that readers caught some or all of everything that happened, but just in case, here's the lightning round of all the action since last week's Mailbag.





Darnold, Jones, Greenard, Cashman and Van Ginkel participate in introductory press conferences


Wow! A lot sure has happened in the last few days. With all the turnover of free agency, I am glad to see Harrison Smith coming back as a steadying hand for the defense. The trade to acquire an additional first round pick makes me wonder if Michael Penix, Jr., will still be available at 23, or possibly Bo Nix, and the plan may be to nab an edge rusher or other top-flight defensive talent with pick No. 11, and wait on a QB of the future for the 23rd pick. I cannot see not drafting a first-round QB this year, though, this is a generationally deep crop of QB talent this year, and even after the top rated 3, [J.J.] McCarthy, Penix, and Nix all look like solid prospects. I do think Penix has the best arm talent of the three and may be the most ready to start quickly as the oldest of them, and maybe his injury history pushes him down the board a bit. Nix seems like the most complete dual-threat player, and McCarthy is the biggest unknown, but it is hard to fault his winning pedigree.

But draft aside, they have to re-sign [Justin] Jefferson, and the way to handle the huge compensation required is with a long contract, like six-to-eight years. A record-setting contract for any position today will be mediocre starter money six years from now, and Jefferson is not just hugely talented, but a perfect teammate as well. The only risk with a long contract for him is a devastating injury, and those can't be predicted. Justin Jefferson will never make us sorry to have him on our team.

— Dan K. in Santa Barbara, California

Count me in as looking forward to seeing Smith back with the Vikings. It's been a truly incredible run for the 2012 first-round pick. His experience and leadership (even if he's more of the quiet type) are going to help a defense that is in the process of making other changes.

The trade news hit Friday morning, and then the questions really began about what else the Vikings might do.

There's going to be plenty of speculation on whether the Vikings will now stay at 11 and 23 or thereabouts, or if they package one or both of those picks for a seismic shift in a subsequent deal.

The key is Minnesota acquired a significant degree of flexibility in the deal with Houston.

There will be plenty of predicting how fast quarterbacks will be selected, based on needs of teams at the top of the draft and the high projections for multiple prospects.

First-round picks carry so much additional value because teams can choose to exercise a fifth-year option, which is what Jefferson is on this season.

The Vikings could still utilize franchise tag on Jefferson beyond this season but have talked about wanting Jefferson to be a Viking for the long haul. Adofo-Mensah said the conversation got close before the 2023 season.

View photos of OLB Danielle Hunter throughout his career as a Minnesota Viking.

A lot has happened in the first week of free agency. Unfortunately, Danielle Hunter signed with the Texans. But the Texans do seem to be playing tag back and forth with the Vikings. And I'm pleased to see the Vikings have signed several defenders. But then the landscape of draftniks and prognosticators was silent when it was announced they had acquired the 23rd pick to go along with No. 11.

Now the message is clear. The Vikings are going after a quarterback in the draft. Are the Giants, Broncos and Raiders the only other teams looking at a second-tier quarterback? The Giants (now) have both Jones and Lock, so they're apparently not going QB in Round 1. And the Broncos have neither the cap space nor draft capital to really trade up. So maybe the Vikings can stay at 11, and get either McCarthy, Nix or Penix. But if they do need to jump, they have the two first rounders to trade up. McCarthy would be a good fit, but I still think Bo Nix is the most experienced.

Let Chicago take [Caleb] Williams at number one. It sure has cost them to do so. They say he's a generational talent like [Patrick] Mahomes. Or he could be another RGIII (Robert Griffen III), [Johnny] Manziel or [Cam] Newton, who melts down under pressure and scrutiny.

— David A. from the North Shore but trapped in North Carolina

Having covered every snap of Hunter's career so far, it will be very different to not see him in a Vikings uniform this fall and coming to U.S. Bank Stadium as a visitor.

The Vikings clearly liked what they saw from Greenard and Cashman in Houston's defense last season, which was the Texans first with former linebacker DeMeco Ryans at the helm.

As of right now, the Giants are scheduled to pick sixth, the Broncos at 12th and the Raiders at 13th.

The trade by the Vikings was almost like playing offense and defense at the same time. Having two first-round picks offers so many more opportunities.

Minnesota will spend some time predicting what some other teams who also might have interest in a quarterback have in mind and can send out some preliminary inquiries for what teams ahead of them may want should the Vikings want to move up the board.

I wouldn't lump RGIII, Manziel and Newton too closely together. Griffin was Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, but his career was dramatically altered by injury. Manziel's NFL tenure was eight games, and he's admitted mistakes he made in his approach. Newton was the 2015 NFL MVP and a three-time Pro Bowler.

Now that the Vikings have signed QB Sam Darnold, do you think they will try to move up in the draft for a quarterback, and how far do you think they need to move up to get their guy?

Also, fans may be curious about the status of TE T.J. Hockenson. How is his rehab coming along, and do you think he will be ready when September rolls around? I am thinking the Vikings might be looking to take a tight end in the upcoming draft in case T. J. Hockenson is not ready or has some sort of setback. What do you think?

A fan through thick and thin,

— David Bond in Rochester, Minnesota

David's email (and many others) were sent before Friday's trade.

I think the Vikings are obviously interested in working with Darnold, the No. 3 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Jets, and they wanted to have as much maneuverability as possible. The team now has both.

Chicago, Washington and New England having picks 1, 2 and 3, along with changes at starting quarterback, indicate that the position could be addressed early and often on April 25.

The Vikings haven't had a public update on Hockenson since Jan. 29, when the team announced he underwent successful surgery to repair his torn ACL. We'll be sure to provide another update down the road, but we're still several weeks away from veterans reporting to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center to begin the 2024 offseason workout program.

Elsewhere at the position, the Vikings already worked out deals to bring back Johnny Mundt and Nick Muse to go along with Josh Oliver, who will be in the second season of the three-year deal he signed. Mundt received increased opportunities after Hockenson's injury. Muse showed improvements from his rookie season to his second pro preseason and might be called on to help fill the gap if Hockenson is not ready by the start of the season.

The Vikings still have nine selections, so that's some draft capital that could be directed toward a tight end, as well.

I have been a Vikings fan since 1969.

I hope this year in the draft, we don't trade back as we have frequently done in the past. It hasn't worked out. Two years ago, we could have drafted Kyle Hamilton at safety, but we traded back and took Lewis Cine. We have to hit on the first- and second-round draft picks at a minimum. If all you want is third-seventh-round drafts picks, I'm sure the league and the other 31 teams would be glad to oblige us.

Sure, you can mention players who were taken this late that were diamonds in the rough (Tom Brady). But I can tell you of hundreds that didn't work out. If you're 100% sure you can get who you want, maybe trading back is good. We need a quarterback obviously. Sam Darnold is not the answer. I know QBs in first round are risky, but I think this year is the risk worth taking. There will never be a team that makes or wins the Super Bowl without a great QB. I think J.J. McCarthy would be a great pick. Please don't sit on your thumbs this year and sit back. Try being aggressive and move up if necessary. Moving back has not worked. Wishing us a successful draft.

— Bill Finnical

Bill's email also was sent when Minnesota was scheduled to pick at No. 11 and No. 42. The No. 42 pick in the second round was sent to Houston to get No. 23, but that aside, Bill is correct about the importance of hitting on early picks as the roster goes under considerable reconstruction.

It's an interesting juxtaposition of Darnold signing with the Vikings. Players can have traits and abilities that result in being selected with high picks, but they don't necessarily land in ideal situations.

View photos of QB Sam Darnold who joined the Vikings during free agency.

Darnold was 13-25 as a starter (the Jets were 0-10 without him playing) in three seasons, Darnold was traded to the Panthers. He went 8-9 for a Carolina team that was 4-13 without Darnold from 2021-22.

Both the Jets and Panthers made coaching changes after Darnold's first season with each squad.

A smart but usually quiet co-worker mentioned this past week how Super Bowl-aspiring San Francisco Head Coach Kyle Shanahan opted to have Darnold as the 49ers backup as Brock Purdy returned from an injury the previous season. In a league where the backup is one play away, that's a decent vote of confidence, right?

Vikings RB Aaron Jones, QB Sam Darnold, LB Blake Cashman, OLB Jonathan Greenard and OLB Andrew Van Ginkel sign their contracts and tour TCO Performance Center.

I like the length we got in free agency. Andrew Van Ginkel is 6-foot-4 and Jonathan Greenard is [6-3]. That can lead to tipped balls at the line of scrimmage and possible turnovers. Blake Cashman looks like a tackling machine. I never had these players on my radar. I am glad the people making the decisions know what they are doing.

— Gerald Goblirsch

Length is one of the things that coaches can't coach but can try to capitalize on it. Greenard is a little shorter than Hunter (6-5), but his arm length measured at 34 7/8 inches, compared to 34 1/4 for Hunter.

The Vikings also added length to the interior defensive line with the signing of Tillery, who is 6-7 and has the same arm length measurement as Hunter.

The length added could help shrink throwing windows and enable Minnesota to bat more passes at the line of scrimmage.

Cashman's return to Minnesota after three years with the Jets and two with the Texans is a fun offseason storyline, but the Vikings clearly expect him to build on his first season as a starter in which he recorded 106 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five passes defensed and his first career interception.

Signing [Darnold] is just swapping interceptions with Cousins, just a cheaper way to entice the fans.

— Bill Gagnon in San Jose, California (Vietnam Vet and Vikes fan since the beginning)

The money Cousins reportedly is receiving from the Falcons was not in line with how the Vikings want to be able to construct the roster.

Darnold has thrown 63 touchdowns and 56 interceptions. In six games with the 2022 Panthers (after Steve Wilks was hired as interim head coach to replace Matt Rhule), Darnold threw seven touchdowns against three interceptions, for a touchdown percentage of 5.0 and an interception percentage of 2.1.

Crazy past few days of teams wheelin' and dealing like stockbrokers on Wall Street. Some moves making sense while others leave me scratching my head. But as you might surmise, I need to talk Vikes. What the blazes are we doing paying Sam Darnold $10 million to play QB? He's proven very little since being a highly touted draft choice a number of years ago. He's not fine wine!

If I was in management and I'm not, I'd be calling the Steelers about Kenny Pickett, who's still on a rookie deal. Draft an edge rusher at 11 and then QB. Maybe [J.J.] McCarthy might drop and we move up. We still have [Nick] Mullens and [Jaren] Hall for now, but seriously, the current QB room doesn't say championship to me. Nor would it say championship to [Justin Jefferson] and the rest of the team.

What would it take to get Pickett?



Re-signing [Brandon] Powell makes sense if you're our HC, but with all the great receivers available why Brandon?

— Nicholas Balkou

Despite being at the forefront of 2018 pre-draft conversations, Darnold is only going to turn 27 on June 5. Pickett, who was traded by the Steelers to the Eagles last week, coincidentally was born a year and a day after Darnold, so he'll turn 26 this summer.

Darnold's age and abilities that led to his high selection, combined with the confidence that O'Connell has in his system and structure for quarterbacks make him an intriguing addition.

Pickett was the 20th overall pick in 2022 by Pittsburgh, whose facility is adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh's, where Pickett played in college.

The Steelers reset their quarterbacks room by signing Russell Wilson and trading for Justin Fields, then opted to send Pickett to the Eagles. reported Pickett and a fourth-round pick (No. 120) were sent to Philadelphia in exchange for a third-round pick (No. 98) and two seventh-round picks in 2025.

The Steelers were able to acquire Fields, another former first-round selection, for a 2025 sixth-round pick.

The Vikings have Darnold, Mullens and Hall under contract for 2024.

I'm high on the Powell re-signing, and I saw some other people applauding that. He's tough, he knows the system, and he was getting open consistently. He also came close to popping a couple of big punt returns last year and cleanly fields punts with confidence.

Vikings Legend John Randle gives a tour of the Vikings Museum to RB Aaron Jones, QB Sam Darnold, LB Blake Cashman, OLB Jonathan Greenard and OLB Andrew Van Ginkel who joined the team during free agency.

Which quarterback in the draft will the Vikings try to get? Which QB is in second place and third place? Who does [Kevin O'Connell] like?

How and where in the draft order would the Vikings have to be to draft the QB(s) of choice?

If they must move up in the draft order, what will it cost, in draft picks, players or other capital to do it?

Draft picks only?


Players and draft picks?

AS aways, you do a great job even when you don't know all the answers.


Please explain why the Vikings have to pay dead money to Hunter and Cousins, being that they both have contracts with other teams who are paying it.

Explain how the contracts work and why any team would end up with dead money paid.


As I watched the playoffs, I can't help to think what should or could have happened. The 2022 draft has haunted us ever since then. The Vikings could have had All-Pro Safety Hamilton instead of Lewis Cine, who hasn't contributed to the team. As we know most of the other draft picks haven't done well either. So extra picks are not so valuable.

I want to see first-round picks to end up All-Pros, if not HOFs. Pick well, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and [O'Connell].

What will it take to get our next quarterback in the draft?

— Gill Sorg in New Mexico

Gill's keyboard was almost as busy as mine was last week. He sent three emails that featured multiple questions, and I truly appreciate his grace and yours in understanding I don't have the answers to all questions.

We will find out more and more as we get closer to the draft, but I do know O'Connell will be comprehensive in his assessment of the available quarterbacks. As mentioned, grabbing the extra first-round pick has created ample options for the Vikings. Draft capital is valuable to all teams, especially six weeks after free agency has opened.

Teams across the NFL do seem interested in making all types of deals this offseason.

Dead money is what remains from guarantees offered to players who are no longer with the team that issued the contract. Cousins and Hunter each had some guarantees remaining that will count against the salary cap, even though they became free agents last week and were able to sign new deals.

Earlier this month, with much focus on the Broncos situation with Wilson, The Sporting News' Edward Sutelan put together this piece which is helpful in understanding more about dead money. ESPN also outlines recent dead money charges in this post from March 6.

Teams try to time out when different financial obligations hit. Dealing with dead money limits cap space, but teams are finding ways to navigate dead money.

Lastly, each draft class (and every player within it) has a different trajectory, but it does take a little bit to finalize the report card of the group. We'll see if more opportunities present for the class of 2022 or if the Vikings look elsewhere.

Really? We could have signed Mason Rudolph for less money and IMHO a better quarterback than Darnold has shown to date! We're headed to some dark times as a team, bottom dwellers of the NFC North. I guess if we don't sign any beef up front, it won't matter who's behind center either. Why hasn't the team signed Dalton [Risner]?

— Rick in Stillwater, Oklahoma

This edition may have set a Vikings Mailbag record for chatter about former and future Steelers QBs. Rudolph was a third-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2018. He made 13 starts from 2019-23, going 8-4-1, but the Steelers used the 20th pick of 2022 to select Pickett.

The Titans signed Rudolph last week presumably to be the backup for Will Levis, a second-round pick last year.

View the best photos of QB Kirk Cousins from the 2023 season.

OK, since you missed me, I got more to say. As for Cousins, I know he wanted security of a long-term deal, but that wasn't gonna happen in Minnesota, so he went with the money, which he always does. In his next life, he should be a politician or an agent. Talks a good game? Said he really wanted to retire a Viking now he really wants to retire a Falcon! Déjà vu: looks like we did six years ago, thinking that he was the missing piece. Newsflash: he's NOT.

On to other topics: I like the defensive free agents. Sorry we couldn't keep [Danielle] Hunter, but we couldn't afford him. Love that [Harrison] Smith wants/sees sticking around Flores' defense that will be much improved. Maybe we can pick up Xavien Howard at CB, and maybe [Arik] Armstead at DT and then we can focus on getting a quarterback in the draft. We could even move up now if we want. Cautiously optimistic about the direction of the Vikings.

— Frankie, your long-suffering Vikings fan in Connecticut. SKOL!

Over six years, I was able to gradually develop a relationship with Cousins and a better understanding and appreciation of him. I'm not going to claim to know how he weighed his decision.

Based on knowing his appreciation for the history of the game, I think he wanted the years as much as the money. This is a four-year runway for him to continue to climb the NFL leaderboard for passing yards and touchdowns. He'll understandably direct focus toward trying to win, but his success (and continued climb on those leaderboards) obviously is part of how he envisions helping the Falcons.

He and his agent have excelled in working out deals with teams. It's neither of their jobs to tell a prospective team to pay him less.

Smith's deal to come back is a good indication of what he thinks of Flores. I'm sure it's not the only factor involved in Smith's decision, but it does validate what Smith has said about enjoying the opportunity to play for Flores, as well as what Vikings coaches said about wanting Smith back in 2024.

Howard was released by the Dolphins last week but has not yet signed with a new team.

Armstead has joined the Jaguars, which occurred after Frankie's email hit the inbox.

Please using your expertise to explain why the Vikings signed Sam Darnold for $10 million.

A failure everywhere he's been. Spending $10 million for Darnold makes zero sense. You have [Nick] Mullens for nothing. A little coaching could make him a solid bridge for a drafted QB. Mullens performed well with the exception of 2-3 silly throws a game.

I wish this team would've been honest with their Season Ticket Holders and let us know they're throwing in the towel.

No need to sign Jefferson if you have Darnold throwing to him.

Four wins at best for this team this year. It's sad this team was a top-three team in the NFC with Cousins and now a bottom-three with Darnold.

— Kevin Flynn

I guess we've never seen Darnold throw to Jefferson yet. And we've never seen him in O'Connell's system.

One person who has seen more of Darnold than most is his position coach Josh McCown, who was his teammate with the Jets in 2018 and hired by the Vikings last month. We haven't yet heard from McCown, but I'd imagine O'Connell and others valued his input in making this decision.

We often attributed "You can never have too many quarterbacks" or something like that to former Head Coach Mike Zimmer. Last season tested quarterback depth across the NFL.

Another takeaway from last season was the desire to better help whoever is at quarterback. Minnesota's addition of Jones at running back and defensive additions are designed to strengthen other aspects of the team.

As the GM moves us closer to the basement, it is hard to see a plan.

When I turn on the TV and see national announcers wondering what the Vikes plan is, so do I. Losing not only the second-best player on offense and the BEST player on defense is made worse by their replacements.

Obviously there was no plan, as Darnold has done NOTHING in the pros.

As someone who was at the Bears game in 1961 when we shocked the world, free agency has been the GM's saving grace because his drafts put him in the Les Steckel category.

That is why anyone hoping for the draft has zero reason, other than maybe trading back and taking another player who won't help the team. It is so disheartening to see what is happening, and [Justin Jefferson] must be thinking the exact same thing!!!!!

— Bryan Abrams

It's one of those things where a GM's plan is probably never fully unveiled because of the risk of causing a competitive disadvantage. The past couple of offseasons Adofo-Mensah has been strategic in working around salary cap limitations. The Vikings were able to be more involved this year with the cap increase and the work that has been done to create more cap space.

This year's group of free agents is intriguing. There's probably been some who have liked what Minnesota has done so far and some who haven't. We won't know how it will all shake out until the fall.

Well, it finally happened. Cousins is gone. It had to happen at some point in time because we just couldn't afford the going rate for QB, considering the other needs we have. The Vikings will have salary cap room now and they should be able to spread some of the cash around on areas that need improvement. With the 11th pick in the draft, the team is in a good place to pick its future QB. Hopefully, they will pick the right player, but high draft position is no guarantee of who is the next future Hall of Famer, and it doesn't guarantee success. As a fan, we can only trust in the decisions our coaching staff and management makes and hope everything works out.

I will say though that I'm saddened by the greed factor that has permeated the NFL (on both sides). Kirk easily could have agreed to a contract for less money to stay with the Vikes if he meant what he said. On the flip side, Aaron Jones gave up $5 million last year to stay with the Pack, and they cut him this year anyway, so he lost $5 million. The knife cuts both ways. SKOL Vikings

— Mike Schuffenhauer (fan from N. MPLS since 1969)

The signing of Jones after his release from Green Bay could have multiple benefits for the Vikings.

He's done really well against Minnesota in Border Battles, has a completeness to his game and has gone five consecutive contests with 100 yards on the ground, becoming the first player in Packers history with a streak like that. He's also showing to be a dynamic, genuine and spunky personality in his first few days in purple, which should provide for some fun times. It seemed like plenty of Packer backers were sad to see the news he had been released.

During his first press conference here, Jones thanked Green Bay for drafting and developing him.

As much as I love Kirk Cousins, I'm happy to see him go to Atlanta because the 45 million dollars can be spent now to build up our defense. And we can save a lot of money with a rookie quarterback. I'm hoping they draft Bo Nix.

My question for you is why did Kwesi let Hunter walk away for 25 million to the Texans? It makes no sense to me to let someone who is so dominant on the defensive line just walk away. Yes, we saved 7 million with Greenard and he is younger, but Hunter was drafted by the Vikings and even at his age is one of the top 5 defensive ends in the NFL. It makes no sense to me. It seems like Kwesi doesn't want to retain anyone on the Vikings. I liked Spielman a lot more...

— Tom Gustafson in Hutchinson, Minnesota

It was awesome to see Hunter develop into the player he grew into. He's also always been a class act at every interaction, and I wish him well in Houston, where he spent his high school years. Hopefully you all were able to catch the intro press conference with Greenard, Cashman and Van Ginkel. Ideally, it's only the beginning of years of good things for those players with the Vikings.

Since we weren't privy to the conversations between Hunter, his representation and the Vikings, it's a little hard to assign the outcome of Hunter leaving.

View photos of OLB Jonathan Greenard who joined the Vikings during free agency.

I am a Vikings fan from Mexico City since 1974.

How come I became a Vikings fan in a country in which NFL football is not the primary sport and Minnesota was not a team that the TV networks used to broadcast, I don't know. I just remember seeing the Vikings and becoming a fan.

Fortunately for me, I have been able to see the Vikings play in their three venues, Metropolitan Stadium (last game for the team), the Metrodome and U.S. Bank Stadium.

As all Vikings fans, I have waited for the time for us to be champions. When this new management and coaching team arrived, my hopes were very high. And now I don't know if this is closer or further away.

Going to the point, I understand that football is a business and also understand that management and coaching did their best to keep Cousins on the team. But choosing to sign Darnold as our QB, I don't think was the best decision. My point of view is that, if you are looking for a championship, we could have taken Russell Wilson!! He is a winning QB, winner of a Super Bowl and runner-up of a second one, with much more experience and winning stats than Darnold, and MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE!! And with the support cast of receivers and TE we have (much better than the one he had in Denver) and the defense that Brian Flores is building for us, he gave us a better chance on winning it all.

Why not spend a little bit over $1M in a winning QB instead of $10M in a less-than-average QB for a year contract? That is what I don't get it!!

I also see that the future for the team in the QB position is in the college draft, but at least for this upcoming season Russell Wilson would have given us a better chance for a championship than Sam Darnold.

I feel frustrated!!

— Marcos Achar in Mexico City, Mexico

Appreciate the support from Mexico City for 50 years and glad we can try to help you connect with the team online.

The desire to compete for championships remains strong, but as you know, in today's NFL, there's usually a pivot point in strategy at really important positions every few years.

I've highlighted some points above for giving Darnold a chance to compete in this environment. Minnesota obviously suffered a defeat at Denver last year. After keeping Wilson contained for so much, he revisited the clutch factor that helped him earlier in his career. We'll see how things shake out in Pittsburgh, Minnesota and all the other places where there's been a change at the sport's most important position.

View home and away photos of the Vikings 2024 regular season opponents.