The Next Vikings Trade Possibility? Keep an Eye on Punt Return

Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (15) celebrates his touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings fans, by and large, appear to be enthusiastic about the Nick Mullens trade. The former Raiders QB is now in a competition with Kellen Mond and Sean Mannion to be Kirk Cousins’ main backup. Forced to guess, I’d say Mullens wins the job.

While thinking about this deal, I began to consider some other moves the team might consider. There is still some uncertainty at slot corner, and I’ve long been in favor of adding more pass rush help. Another position that Minnesota may consider is punt returner.

Given some of the issues through two preseason games, might we see the Vikings decide to bring someone in through a trade to create more competition at punt return?

First, a brief recap. In two preseason games, Ihmir Smith-Marsette has been the team’s go-to option. The first preseason game featured only 2 punt returns, and they went for -4 yards. Obviously, it’s a small sample size, but the negative yardage is discouraging to see.

The next game took place last Saturday night against the 49ers. Smith-Marsette had 2 returns for 23 yards, a considerably healthier yard total. The issue is that he fumbled a ball. The first and most important thing a punt returner can do is secure the football. Being unable to do so means the team will need to find someone else for the job.

Special teams coordinator Matt Daniels mostly expressed a positive outlook when asked about Smith-Marsette:

According to the coordinator, Smith-Marsette has all the necessary abilities to succeed. We ought to have some patience since this is his first chance to be a punt returner.

Indeed, one mistake against SF doesn’t mean Smith-Marsette needs to be replaced. He didn’t get any opportunity to be a punt returner in college, so he’s still learning the job. Perhaps some more reps – both in practice and a game – will be enough for him to develop into a strong candidate.

However, another shaky preseason game may prompt the Vikings to consider who is available through trade. The league is supremely competitive; having shaky special teams performances can be the difference between another average year and a playoff year.

In the end, the hope is that Smith-Marsette keeps improving. He is likely going to be this team’s WR4, so being a critical special teams contributor would further solidify his overall impact for the 2022 Vikings.

If, however, the coaches have some uncertainty following the Broncos game, there ought to be some options. Teams will be beginning the difficult process of getting their rosters from 80 players to 53 players. There’s a good chance there will be some players who could compete for punt return duties in Minnesota who aren’t going to make their current team. In that scenario, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah may feel compelled to send out a late-round pick.