The Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders announced today that they have agreed, in principle, to a deal that will send Vikings' wide receiver Randy Moss to the Raiders in exchange for a player and two draft picks. The deal, sure to be one of the most discussed in Vikings' history, marks either a shift in organizational philosophy or a continuation of the Vikings' front office trend of misplaying the market.
Why the Trade Happened
Apparently, the Vikings' organization was much more exasperated with Randy Moss than they have let on. Sure we knew that Moss had become trade bait following season-ending antics that further sullied his reputation as a less-than-team player, but for the past two weeks the Vikings have insisted that any trade for Moss would be a trade for value. Today's deal confirms the contrary.
But add to the Moss-as-malcontent theory the fact that Moss is the Vikings' highest paid player despite touching the ball only a select few times a game and the Vikings had reason to consider this move. High salaries go to quarterbacks or middle linebackers these days, not to receivers. And despite Moss' ability to change the dynamics of the opposing defense, his talents either were overpaid in Minnesota--particularly when taking into account the lockerroom discontent that he apparently had sown--or the Vikings' coaching staff simply has never learned how to use Moss to get the most out of his abilities. Or both.
What the Vikings Will Receive
While the deal sending Moss to the Raiders has yet to be finalized, the terms are set. In exchange for Moss, the Vikings will receive linebacker Napoleon Harris, the Raiders' first-round selection in the 2005 draft (number seven overall), and a "late round" Raiders' draft choice in 2005. That looks more like an NBA-style salary/malcontented player dump than it does an NFL trade of a sterling wide-receiver talent.
Harris is clearly the "jewel" of this deal from the Vikings' end. But, following an outstanding rookie season with 81 tackles in 15 games, an even better second year with 109 tackles in 16 starts, Harris' numbers slid to 60 tackles in 14 games (nine starts). That's a bit less than in his rookie season when prorated over 16 games and factoring in the number of additional plays Harris missed not starting six of 16 games in 2004, and an even more significant disparity when juxtaposed with his 2004 numbers.
While most NFL scouts consider Harris an upgrade over the Vikings' current stable of linebackers, that says more about the Vikings' dearth of talent at linebacker than it does about Harris. But even more alarming is that Harris was actually less productive last season than the Vikings' much-maligned middle linebacker E.J. Henderson. Even with prorated figures, Harris cannot touch Henderson's 94 tackles in 2005. The only hope is that Harris is at least a better decision-maker and play caller.
Given his declining production, it appears that, at best, Harris gives the Vikings a dose of ability at linebacker, and a linebacker who can play in the middle. That helps, but it does not give the Vikings the type of impact player that they should have held out for in a trade for Moss.
The same likely will be said of whomever the Vikings select with the seventh overall pick in this draft. In a draft not considered particularly deep with high-end talent--a draft in which no real star stands out--the number seven pick is as likely to yield a player with several serviceable, if unremarkable years in the NFL, as it is to yield a star. In fact, when one considers that the Vikings likely will draft for need with the seventh pick (rather than taking the best available player) the prospect of the Vikings picking up a great talent at number seven is even less likely.
And if the draft is top light, imagine the crop at the bottom of the draft order, where the Vikings will be using their second pick from Oakland. Could there be another Brian Russell waiting in the wing? Ugh. The Vikings might find something here, but the odds are long.
How the Trade Can be Viewed as a Success
The Vikings can still put a reasonable face on this trade if several things happen. First, they must sign a high-end wide receiver in free agency. The two most notable free agent receivers this year are Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress. Mason is a legitimate number one receiver and would fit nicely with Nate Burleson in the two-receiver set. Burress might emerge as a legitimate number one receiver, but right now he looks a lot like a Burleson. A combination of Burleson and Burress might be enough to complement the running game and produce some offense.
In addition to picking up a wide receiver in the draft the Vikings must use the money that they will save on Moss' contract and the money that they have stored in the cap kitty to sign more talent on defense. That will require the Vikings to sign at least two more linebackers, another cornerback, a safety, and a defensive end. The talent will be there in free agency, the question remains, however, whether Red or Reggie or someone else will bother to make the requisite offers.
If the Vikings take care of the defense, Moss' absence will be less remarkable, save for the fact that the Vikings may have few, if any, deep plays, and may find the sledding a bit tougher between the tackles when facing straight up defense. But even defensive changes will mean little if the Vikings do not find a starter with the number seven overall pick in this year's draft. Who that might be will be the subject of tomorrow's column.