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Monday Morning Mailbag: Young Players Making the Jump & a Wild (But Unlikely) Trade Scenario

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We have a lot of promising second- and third-year players that I want to see step up and be major contributors next year. Some of the players I am thinking about are Hercules Mata'afa, Aviante Collins, Dru Samia, Oli Udoh, Cameron Smith and Armon Watts. What are they doing in the offseason to help them make that jump to major contributors?

— Gerald Goblirsch

That's a solid list of names to watch, Gerald, as I'm also looking to see whether or not that crop of young players can ascend. Players are usually on their own with offseason workouts, although some guys stay here and get their work done at the team facility. Voluntary offseason workouts start April 20, which is when most — if not all — players are back in the building.

Starting with the defensive line, Mata'afa and Watts could certainly create bigger roles for themselves in 2020 with a strong offseason program. Mata'afa could become a more consistent pass rusher, while Watts could also see an increase in playing time depending on what happens at the defensive tackle spot. At linebacker, Cam Smith played sparingly as a rookie (just 85 total snaps on defense and special teams), so a jump for him would perhaps mean becoming a solid special teams player.

As for the offensive linemen, Collins was injured at the end of training camp in 2019, and worked his way back to becoming a solid depth player. Depending on what happens along the line, he could potentially push for more playing time, too.

There likely also will be a good amount of focus on Samia and Udoh, who get lumped together since they were rookies together in 2019 and played the exact same number (31) of offensive snaps next to each other in Week 17.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said after the 2019 season that both players essentially had a redshirt year to get adjusted to the league and learn the offense. They might have larger assignments in 2020.

I'd also add in names such as Kris Boyd, Bisi Johnson, Stacy Keely as depth players who could potentially make a bigger impact in 2020.

Will the Vikings be hurt in free agents signing with Coach Zimmer only having one year on his contract?

— Alan Tiseth

I don't believe Coach Zimmer's contract status has a tangible effect on free agency. It's well-known Coach Zimmer was given an extension last year around this time, and while there has been outside chatter about that topic in recent weeks, he respectfully declined to address the matter at the combine.

With that said, those who have played for Coach Zimmer in his time here — whether it's all six seasons or less than that — can provide insight on who Coach Zimmer is and what he expects. He has a reputation around the league for being a tough, disciplined coach, but he has also showed in the past year or so that he is willing to take care of his players with revised training camp and practice schedules.

Coach Zimmer is 57-38-1 and has won two NFC North titles (with three total playoff appearances) in his tenure in Minnesota. He has earned a status around the league as a top defensive mind, and that might actually be an allure to players who could consider the Vikings in free agency.

View the top photos of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins from the 2019 season.

We've always heard San Francisco really wants Cousins. Why not swap starting QBs with draft picks going to the Vikings in the deal? Then the Vikings trade Garoppolo to the team offering the most and highest draft picks, with the Vikings signing a free agent QB they like (Teddy Bridgewater) for less than these guys were making. Then, draft the QB the Vikings want for the future. This would resolve cap space issues and accumulate picks for this deep draft. Rick [Spielman] just has to make things happen rather than sitting on what we have.

— Pete Anderson in Flagstaff

We'll end with a doozy of a scenario from Pete, who laid out the following trade scenario…

1. The Vikings trade Cousins to the 49ers for Garoppolo.

2. The Vikings then flip Garoppolo to a QB-needy team for draft picks.

3. The Vikings sign a free-agent QB such as Teddy Bridgewater.

4. And the Vikings use a high pick from the (second) Garoppolo deal to draft a QB.

Whew! Pete certainly presents an interesting scenario, and one that would create a ton of buzz around the football world. There's also an extra element of work for Spielman in this case with two trades instead of nabbing picks the first time to eliminate another deal.

While this is certainly one of the most creative emails I've received all offseason, let's all take a deep breath. I think the Vikings have made it quite clear that Cousins is the quarterback for 2020 (and possibly beyond). They tailored their offense to what he does best, and heaped plenty of praise on him at the combine that indicated to the rest of the league that they like what they have in No. 8.

Can he be better in certain situations? Of course, and Coach Zimmer mentioned that he expects Cousins to keep ascending if they can improve the team around him, particularly on the offensive line. Everything the Vikings have said leads to a good amount of certainty that Cousins will be the Vikings quarterback in 2020.