There are numerous questions surrounding the Vikings' trade of Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for Napoleon Harris, the seventh overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, and a late-round pick in the 2005 draft. Among those questions is whether the Vikings made the move to reduce the amount which they were under the cap; whether the Vikings could have received a greater return had they played their cards more adeptly; whether the trade makes the Vikings a better team; and whether the Raiders acted responsibly by trading for a player that they clearly coveted.
Each of these questions merits greater scrutiny. And each of these questions will receive such scrutiny over the next few weeks in this column. Today, however, I focus on one element of the third question in this string of questions--whether the trade makes the Vikings better.
At the outset, it appears that the Vikings took a step back in personnel. They lost a star receiver and gained a linebacker that had fallen out of graces in Oakland. How bad is that? Consider that Oakland was among the league dregs in defense. Consider also that one of Oakland's beefs with Harris is that he could not play in the 3-4 defense.
The 3-4 defense utilizes two middle linebackers. That should make the duties of any one middle linebacker less onerous than were that same linebacker operating in a 4-3 defense with sole middle linebacker responsibilities. Yet, somehow, Harris could not adapt. At a minimum, it makes one wonder what Harris' real problems are. Linebackers have difficulty moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3, not the other way around. Something is wrong with this picture.
I have also noted that, from either a prorated or straight up perspective, Harris' production declined last year. More frightening, however, is that he had fewer tackles in either of the past two seasons than did E.J. Henderson in 2004. The Vikings are suggesting that Harris will add value by making better decisions. But his decision-making, in the easier to play 3-4 defense, is what compelled the Raiders to bench him for several games last season and to play him more sparingly overall.
On face value, the Vikings' acquisition of Harris thus appears to be a gain in only one respect--it helps replace some of the salary cap value that the Vikings gave up by trading Moss. Though the two were not scheduled to earn similar salaries, Harris still had a large enough cap value to help off-set some of Moss' cap loss and to help make the $8 million or so hit to the Vikings' cap from the accelerated portion of Moss' signing bonus help the Vikings stay within shouting distance of the NFL salary floor.
I'll spend more time delving into the salary cap implications of the Moss deal--both for the Vikings and for the Raiders--later this week. But, assuming that the Vikings use the seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft, the real jewel of the deal might be the meaningful draft pick that the Vikings picked up in the deal, the number seven overall pick. And four players stand out as possible picks at number seven.
Given the slim pickings in the 2005 draft, the Vikings will be forced to give serious consideration to drafting the best available player at number seven. While the Vikings need a place kicker, cornerback, and safety, no college player fits any of those needs and merits being drafted with the number seven pick. That leaves the Vikings looking at filling two long-standing needs--linebacker and defensive end--and one sudden need--wide receiver--with the number seven pick.
The Possible Victims
Though the 2005 NFL draft is as lacking in star quality as any in NFL history, there are at least four players that would look good in a Minnesota uniform for years to come and who might be available if and when the Vikings make a selection at number seven. Those players are Braylon Edwards, Mike Williams, Derrick Johnson, and Matt Roth. I begin with a look at Edwards, the best bet in the top 10, and consider the likelihood that he falls to Minnesota at number seven.
Those in the Midwest undoubtedly are familiar with Edwards, a tall, lanky, yet very strong and swift wide receiver in a Moss-like mold. To get a picture of just how good Edwards can be, consider his game against Michigan State last season. Trailing by 17 points with 8.43 remaining in the game, everyone in the stadium understood one thing, Michigan would have to go deep often. That meant that Michigan would look to Edwards.
The point was not lost on Michigan State which had been double covering Edwards the entire game. Even with the double coverage, Edwards found some room. But even more impressive was the fact that, when Michigan was forced to go to Edwards, Edwards came up not big, but huge.
All Edwards did in the last 8.43 was catch numerous passes and score. But for Moss fans, what is most impressive about Edwards' accomplishments against Michigan State is how Edwards scored. Despite double-, sometimes triple-coverage, Edwards scored three touchdowns on receptions of 36, 21, and 24 yards. Edwards scored his first two touchdowns in regulation; the final score clinched the comeback for Michigan in triple overtime.
In the Michigan State game, Edwards caught 11 passes for 189 yards. On the season, Edwards had an equally impressive 97 receptions for 1330 yards--a 13.7 average--with 15 TDs. That, folks, is in eleven games. Edwards topped it off with three TDs against Texas in the Rose Bowl.
Edwards had nearly identical statistics in 2003. The TD totals don't equal Moss' 1997 total of 25, but Edwards faced some stiffer competition than did the Thundering Herd in its first year of play in Division I-A. That counts for something, and suggests that Edwards can have at least a significant impact at the pro level in his rookie season, on sheer ability alone.
Many scouts believe that Edwards will be the second player taken in the draft. But that would have Miami picking up Edwards. While Miami needs receivers, among other things, it really needs a running back. Given Miami's difficulties with the running game last year, and their changing of QBs this year, selecting a running back would make considerable sense for the Dolphins. So too, however, would it make sense for the Dolphins to pick up a QB with NFL potential. Does that sound like the Dolphins' recent M.O.?
Even if the Dolphins pass on Edwards, for the Vikings to have a shot at him, Edwards would still need to slip past several other teams with wide receiver needs, including San Francisco, Chicago, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee. With pressing needs at running back, and seemingly at quarterback, the 49ers would be unwise to draft a wide receiver, but who knows with that franchise. The 49ers also have needs at virtually every position on defense but no defensive player appears worth the number one money. Do the 49ers overpay to get the player they need, do they trade down, or do they simply take one of the two big running backs worthy of the number one pick in this years' draft?
Chicago desperately needed a receiver, but the Bears' recent signing of Mushin Muhammad might sufficiently dampen that need to steer the Bears in another direction. That could mean that the Bears draft a cornerback on another overreach or that the Bears look to deal down in the draft. If the Bears do trade down, however, their trading partner likely will be someone looking for either a running back or a receiver.
Tampa Bay could also use a wide receiver, but really needs a QB. There are two respectable QBs near the top of this year's draft board, and TB may be looking in that direction. And since a receiver is worthless without a QB, barring a free agent QB signing, TB appears an unlikey candidate to draft Edwards.
Of all of the teams above Minnesota in the 2005 NFL draft, Tennessee may be the most desperate for a wide receiver. After cutting the high-producing Derrick Mason, the Titans are without a big play receiver, though Drew Bennett appears on the rise and the Titans may have a more pressing need at running back. Moreover, while Edwards would serve as an adequate replacement for Mason, he would come with a high signing tag. And the same cap woes that forced the Titans to release Mason may force the Titans to trade down in the 2005 draft.
If teams draft according to need in the 2005 draft, the Vikings would thus have a good chance of drafting Edwards. Alas, teams often act unpredictably in the draft, particularly in a thin draft, and particularly when a trade like that of Moss to the Raiders has generated so much focus on receivers. With a lean draft for receivers, teams may feel the need to grab while the grabbing is good. That might take Edwards off the board prematurely. But that should leave Williams...
Up Next: Williams, Johnson, and Roth.