Justin Fields Was Nearly Minnesota’s QB of the Future

Jan. 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) drops back to pass during the fourth quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY Sports

It was almost Justin Fields instead of Kellen Mond for the Minnesota Vikings — at least that’s the buzz on the Monday after the draft.

Fields is a highly-coveted quarterback prospect from Ohio State University, one even theorized as a magnet for the San Francisco 49ers 3rd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. That turned out to be hype with the 49ers choosing Trey Lance from North Dakota State University as a Fields alternative.

The slide was on for Fields, notably passed on by the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons. That mini-tumble prompted speculation that any team outside of the Kansas City Chiefs or Seattle Seahawks could spring for Fields, satisfying the “best player available” philosophy in the NFL draft.

But the Ohio State alumnus did not make it by the Vikings secondary rival, the Chicago Bears. General Manager Ryan Pace climbed nine spots in the draft pecking order via trade with the New York Giants. New York received Chicago’s 1st Round (#20) and 5th-Round picks this year, and the Bears’ 1st and 4th-Rounders in 2022.

The Vikings followed suit — in a less showman-like manner. Vikings boss Rick Spielman drafted Kellen Mond from Texas A&M University in the draft’s 3rd Round. Mond was chosen thanks to a Vikings trade-back with the New York Jets. While the Bears traded up to get their quarterback of the future, Minnesota traded back with the other New York team. Time will adjudicate which strategy was more efficacious.

There is a denominator, though. ESPN‘s Courtney Cronin reported on Monday that Minnesota would have pounced on Fields had the Bears declined to spoil the fun. Cronin wrote:

“On Thursday, Spielman said the Vikings tried to trade up from their position at No. 14 but declined to specify which player they were targeting. Sources told ESPN that Minnesota had an eye on Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater and tried to move up to land him before he went to the Los Angeles Chargers at 13. The Vikings were also preparing to take Fields given the way the board was falling. As Minnesota watched Carolina and Denver pass on Fields at Nos. 8 and 9, their distant dream suddenly felt like it could become a reality. With Vikings ownership in the main draft room, front-office personnel worked the phones and tried to see where they might have to move up to land Fields. At No. 10, the Dallas Cowboys swapped with their division rival Philadelphia Eagles, who took wide receiver DeVonta Smith. The Vikings were three picks away from closing in on Fields when the Chicago Bears dealt their No. 20 pick, their No. 164 pick and their 2022 first- and fourth-round picks to the New York Giants to move up nine spots to draft Fields, a potential franchise-saving quarterback. The Vikings were stunned, and this one really stung. They wanted one of the top quarterbacks, but they weren’t desperate enough to give up that kind of draft capital for a player who would be sitting behind Cousins for at least a year. But Fields was the guy for Minnesota, and the team was prepared to take him if he had been there at No. 14 and begin a process of shifting course.”

The most significant takeaway from this reporting is not that the purple and gold missed out on Fields. That’s just the beast of an NFL draft — teams miss out on players that they adore.

Conversely, it’s the Vikings sought a succession plan quarterback — no matter what. KSTP‘s Darren Wolfson reported before the draft that the team had “done homework” on signal-callers, and Wolfson wasn’t kidding.

Mond (or even it was Fields) is the first real breadcrumb that the Vikings do not absolutely love Kirk Cousins beyond 2022. The best-case scenario is that Cousins takes the team to February football, creating an atmosphere of “why did they even take that Mond guy” in his wake. But that remains to be seen.

Additionally, because Spielman planned to seize Fields per Cronin’s reporting, Fields will now forever be linked to the Vikings what-if Lore. And the same goes for the Denver Broncos — George Paton’s team had a golden opportunity — organic in nature — to draft Fields but opted for more of Drew Lock instead.

Also, don’t forget that the Vikings will eventually see Fields twice per season — one time annually in a spot that is notoriously nasty for Minnesota, Soldier Field.

Fields has the scouting report to suggest he will be a better football player than Mond. But the two could do battle for the foreseeable future inside the NFC North when the Cousins era ceases.