Grades for Vikings’ early moves in 2020 NFL offseason

The Minnesota Vikings’ 2020 offseason looks like it’ll be defined by the draft and the players who left the team. Key members of the Vikings defense last year — Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, among others — have signed (or will sign) with other organizations.

While general manager Rick Spielman didn’t have much salary-cap space to work with to bring in top-tier free agents, he did make a few significant moves in the offseason by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a contract extension and trading wide receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. The Vikings also made a pair of impact signings on the open market by bringing in defensive tackle Michael Pierce and wide receiver Tajae Sharpe.

FOX Sports North compiled grades and reactions of Spielman’s moves from around the NFL world and accumulated a grade-point average at the bottom of this story. Let’s dive in:

 

Pete Prisco of CBS

Michael Pierce: B+. “Pierce replaces Linval Joseph, who the Vikings released for cap reasons earlier this week. Pierce is a good run player when he keeps his weight in check. He had issues with that last year.”

 

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com

Kirk Cousins extension: C+. “The structure of this deal is what keeps the Vikings in the Cousins business. As is the case with the Ryan Tannehill extension, Cousins has his 2020 and 2021 base salaries guaranteed now, while his 2022 base salary of $35 million becomes fully guaranteed at the start of next season. The Vikings could theoretically cut Cousins next spring, but they would still owe him $56 million in guaranteed base salaries over the next two seasons. The Antonio Brown trade reset our expectations of what teams are willing to absorb in terms of dead money, but Minnesota almost certainly isn’t cutting Cousins.”

Stefon Diggs trade: B. “If the Vikings were going to move on from Diggs, this was probably the time to do so. This trade frees up $5.5 million in cap room for them to try to work on a long-term deal for safety Anthony Harris, who was unexpectedly retained with the franchise tag Monday morning. The Vikings now have two first-round picks (Nos. 22 and 25) and two third-round picks in what appears to be a deep class of wide receivers.”

Michael Pierce: B. “The Vikings essentially swapped out Linval Joseph for Pierce, and while Pierce doesn’t offer Joseph’s pass-rushing upside, I like this swap. Pierce is four years younger and was downright unmovable in his time with the Ravens. He was typically only a two-down defender, but he might be the best nose tackle in the league in that role now that Damon Harrison has declined.”

 

SB Nation

Stefon Diggs trade: short term – D; long-term – B-. “Diggs has been unhappy in Minnesota for a long time, and it was only a matter of time before he was traded. The Bills just got Josh Allen some serious firepower on offense with the 26-year-old Diggs, and the Vikings got a first-round pick. The compensation is heavy — much more than the Texans managed for DeAndre Hopkins.”

Michael Pierce: short term – A; long-term – B+. “Pierce is just 27, and is one of the league’s top run stuffers after entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He’ll be a great fit on Minnesota’s already stellar defense, which had some issues stopping the run last season, notably in the playoffs against the 49ers.”

 

WalterFootball.com

Kirk Cousins extension: D. “ I find this move to be incredibly stupid. The Vikings made a huge mistake when they initially signed Cousins to a fully guaranteed deal. They’ve endured his pedestrian quarterbacking since, standing zero chance against the 49ers in their divisional-round playoff loss. It’s obvious that Cousins is not good enough to lead a team deep into the playoffs, but the Vikings somehow haven’t realized this. Instead, like a drug addict, they’ve come back for more, even though what they’re doing clearly is horrible for them.”

Michael Pierce: A. “Pierce is not the same sort of player Linval Joseph was in his prime, but he’s a better talent now because he’s four years younger. Pierce doesn’t offer any sort of a pass rush, but he’s a monstrous run-stuffer. Minnesota will be very difficult to run on as long as Pierce is clogging the trenches, so adding him was a good idea. He was signed to a cheap price, so I’d say this move is worth an “A” grade.”

Tajae Sharpe: B. “I’ve seen some people tout this as a replacement for Stefon Diggs. I look at this more as a replacement for Laquon Treadwell. Tajae Sharpe is not a very good receiver. He runs routes well, but he’s not very talented. The last time he caught more than 26 passes was his rookie campaign in 2016. Granted, Sharpe has never played with a good passer, but that will continue to be the case in Minnesota. Still, this is just a contract worth $1 million, so there’s absolutely no downside. Sharpe is an OK third receiver, so the price is right for him.”

 

Sporting News

Kirk Cousins extension: A. “Cousins is coming off an exceptional career-best playoff season and was worthy to secure his future in Minnesota beyond the 2020 season. The Vikings couldn’t afford to mess around with the rumors of the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan possibly having more interest in signing Cousins next offseason.”

Stefon Diggs trade: B+. “This deal is very good for Minnesota, given Diggs didn’t really want to make it work with Cousins and coach MIke Zimmer. For the Bills, not so much, as they had to give up a first-rounder, fourth-rounder, fifth-round and sixth-rounder.”

Michael Pierce: A. “The Vikings moved quickly on a younger replacement for Linval Joseph after clearing some cap space by cutting Joseph and others. Pierce was a solid force for the Ravens’ run defense and will plug into that same role for MIke Zimmer.”

 

Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire

Michael Pierce: A. “One of the best run-stopping defensive tackles in the NFL, Pierce should present an upgrade to Linval Joseph in Minnesota’s defense after Joseph was released in a salary cap move. At 6-foot-0 and 345 pounds, Pierce brings freakish strength and surprising quickness to the field, and while he’s not an every-down defender, he’s incredibly good at what he does. He’ll be a valuable addition to a Vikings defense undergoing a lot of changes.”

 

More Vikings coverage

Pro Football Focus

Kirk Cousins extension: C.  “It’s hard to tell exactly how to feel with the Cousins extension. On one hand, he finished the 2019 season with an 84.1 overall grade that was one of the better marks among quarterbacks across the league. But, at this point, it seems unlikely that Cousins will be the guy to elevate an offense regardless of the talent around him.”

Stefon Diggs trade: D. “On the other side, this wasn’t a terrible deal for the Vikings. Despite his talent, Diggs clearly wanted out of Minnesota, and unlike the Texans, the Vikings did get a first-round pick for Diggs along with several late-to-mid round selections. It’s hard to feel great about giving up a legitimate top-tier wide receiver, though, and now the Vikings are left with a glaring hole at the position with unproven depth behind Adam Thielen.”

Michael Pierce: C. “The Vikings had to part ways with long-time starter Linval Joseph, but it appears that they wasted no time in finding his replacement. Pierce is the quintessential space eater in the middle of a defense. He had a down year by his standards in 2019, but he picked up run-defense grades of 80.0 or higher in each of his first three seasons with a career-high 92.0 run-defense grade in 2018. That elite play against the run led to him being one of the 25 most valuable interior defenders per PFF WAR in both 2017 and 2018. At an average annual salary of $9 million, this is a little on the expensive side, but Pierce will certainly play a defined role on Mike Zimmer’s defense.”

 

USA Today

Kirk Cousins extension: C+. “Given their cap situation, working out an extension that lowered Cousins’ cap number for 2020 was always in the Vikings’ best interest. The alternative would have been a soft rebuild and a reset at the quarterback position. Now Minnesota is committed to two more years of Cousins at a reasonable price.”

Stefon Diggs trade: B-.“Getting rid of an elite talent at a valuable position is rarely a good thing, but Diggs was fed up in Minnesota so I’m not sure the Vikings had much of a choice in the matter. At the very least, they didn’t pull a Houston and give away a stud receiver for a bag of stale potato chips. Diggs leaves a gaping hole at receiver, but now the Vikings have an extra first-round in a draft loaded with receiving talent. It could have been a lot worse, Vikings fans.”

 

OVERALL GPA

Kirk Cousins extension: 2.32 (note: 5 grades)

Stefon Diggs trade: short term – 2.2; long term – 2.54 (note: 5 grades; we used a D for PFF’s below average)

Michael Pierce: short term – 3.47; long term – 3.37 (note: 7 grades; we used a C for PFF’s average)

Tajae Sharpe: 3.0 (note: 1 grade)