A Vikings QB Trade that Actually Makes Some Sense

NFL: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports

Relationships matter in the NFL, a reality that may be important as we consider a potential Vikings QB trade.

Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Titans general manager Ran Carthon know each other. In fact, Adofo-Mensah referred to him as his “good friend” back in January. Currently, Minnesota has some uncertainty about the long-term outlook at quarterback whereas Tennessee seems inclined to hand things over to Will Levis.

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Sep 3, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) looks to pass during the second quarter against the Miami (Oh) Redhawks at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Where does that leave Malik Willis, the 24-year-old who was chosen 86th overall in 2022? Don’t be totally surprised if Carthon — a GM who wasn’t responsible for making Willis a Titan — looks to recoup some draft capital for a player whose future in Tennessee doesn’t look particularly promising.

A Vikings QB Trade: Malik Willis

Quite often, the rumors have danced around Trey Lance, one of many QBs in San Francisco. Originally from Marshall, Minnesota, Lance makes sense as far as the purple-dot-connecting is concerned. What has been less certain, though, is whether there is actual interest from Minnesota to pry him away from Kyle Shanahan’s squad.

Aug 25, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) looks to pass the ball during the first quarter gainst the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, Lance to Minnesota still exists as a possibility. Kirk Cousins will enter free agency next year if there’s no extension — a situation that has surprised me, to be sure — and Lance may be looking for a different opportunity if things continue on their modest trajectory in San Francisco. Right now, a deal with the Vikings and 49ers doesn’t seem anywhere close to imminent.

One does wonder, though, about Malik Willis. Spots like The Draft Network and CBS Sports have taken on the topic. A team that shouldn’t be slept on is the Vikings, especially once the calendar flips over into 2024.

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Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The aforementioned TDN piece thinks Willis would offer an intriguing upgrade: “It’s a crowded room, but Willis would add a layer of excitement to a franchise that lacks a long-term answer under center. Head coach Kevin O’Connell runs a similar offense to what Malik Willis learned in Tennessee, giving the sophomore the advantage of applying recent teachings to a new destination.”

Yes, the QB room has a lot of talent already. Cousins isn’t going anywhere in 2023; he’s the QB1 and there’s no debating that fact. Behind him are Nick Mullens — freshly signed to a 2-year deal — and Jaren Hall. The rookie is someone whom the franchise is high on, so expect to see him on the roster.

Nov 26, 2022; Stanford, California, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) runs the ball against the Stanford Cardinal during the second half at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The appeal with Willis is that he’s a still-young QB who was highly regarded heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. He struggled as a rookie, finishing his year having gone 1-2 while completing 50.8% of his passes for 276 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs. No sugarcoating it: those are ugly stats.

Of course, he’s still young, so by no means should we think the final chapter has been written in the story of his NFL career. The scouting profile on the NFL’s website draws attention to his upside while noting some of the issues he’ll need to address: “On the pro level, additional film work and a layered, pro-style passing attack could allow for more focused reads and help him see the field faster and more clearly from the pocket. Play-callers must lean into his special talent as a runner and include called runs into the game plan.”

The same piece projected an opening round selection while insisting that Willis blends Jay Cutler and Jalen Hurts in his style of play.

Kevin O’Connell — who, like Willis, was a 3rd-round selection — may welcome the chance to work alongside the young passer. Lots of coaches like to think they have what it takes to let a player shine, but perhaps O’Connell (the QB-turned-coach) is the one capable of doing so with Willis. Plus, Kwesi has shown with several of his trades that he likes bringing in young, upside players who are still on their rookie deals. Willis fits the bill.

Jun 7, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell looks on during mandatory mini camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Combining the trade history, Cousins uncertainty, and GM-to-GM relationship makes Malik Willis someone worth monitoring. Admittedly, Minnesota may not have room to bring Willis in unless they moved on from Nick Mullens, but the Tennessee passer is certainly someone to watch if an injury arises or either backup majorly struggles during the preseason.

The Vikings have a pair of open roster spots and $18 million in cap space. Training camp begins on Sunday.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.