Michael Rand: Will the Vikings pick a QB in first three rounds of NFL Draft?

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It’s now April 1, and this is no joke: After a horrendous month of March, we can at least start to try to think about warmer weather, better times ahead and actual things on the sports calendar.

Chief among them: The NFL Draft, which is going on as scheduled April 23-25 — albeit in a different form, with prospects and their families not in attendance and everything being handled virtually. (You can still boo Roger Goodell from a safe distance, however).

On the most recent Access Vikings podcast, we talked about the Vikings’ draft strategy — and whether they might pick a quarterback with a meaningful selection. Let’s say that means sometime in the first three rounds, when Minnesota has five choices — two firsts (including one from Buffalo in the Stefon Diggs trade), a second and two thirds (including a compensatory pick).

Here are three reasons it makes sense that they would pick a QB with one of those five picks — and three reasons it doesn’t make sense.

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DRAFT A QUARTERBACK? YES!

1 Kirk Cousins’ contract: You’ll actually see this category show up in both sections. Here’s why it appears on the “yes” side: His extension, agreed to a couple weeks ago, only added two years to his deal for three years total. And it does not, as our Ben Goessling noted on the podcast, include a no-trade clause (which was part of his original deal). Even if Cousins remains the starter here all three years, that’s a short enough period of time to consider either a succession plan or a backup plan as early as this draft.

2 Speaking of which, the Vikings clearly want a better backup quarterback in 2020. A month ago at the Scouting Combine, head coach Mike Zimmer said this about the No. 2 spot: “We want to be able to have somebody who, if he has to go in for three games, can win those three games. It’s not to be another coach for Kirk, OK? It’s for somebody who can help you with that, but at the end of the day he’s got to be able to play, too.”

That didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of 2019 backup Sean Mannion. The Vikings did bring back Mannion on a veteran minimum deal for 2020, but they could easily cut him with little penalty if they found someone they liked more in the draft and that player beat out Mannion for the backup spot. And that player — let’s say he was taken with the No. 89 pick in the third round — would be on a rookie scale deal making about as Mannion with far more upside.

3 A drafted QB almost certainly would be, at best, a backup in 2020 and probably 2021. If that’s as good as he was, it would still be worth it. But what if he developed into a truly special player — a Russell Wilson type (also a third-round pick)? Taking a shot with a reasonably high pick is the Vikings’ most viable path to hit a home run, even if Cousins is an above-average option right now who led the Vikings to a playoff win last season.

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DRAFT A QB? NO WAY!

1 Cousins’ health and contract push quarterback pretty low on the priority list. If the Vikings were going into the draft without having extended Cousins, this would be a much different conversation. But his high-dollar deal over the next three years — combined with the fact that he has been healthy for every start over the last five years — could mean that finding another QB (even as a backup) isn’t urgent in the draft a few weeks from now. Honestly, the time to do it was the 2019 draft — so they could have a year to evaluate before having to decide on a Cousins extension.

2 Perhaps the biggest reason to think the Vikings won’t take a QB in the first three rounds is that it’s simply not in their DNA to pick one unless they absolutely need one (Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, Christian Ponder in 2011, Tarvaris Jackson in 2006). We can argue the merits of this approach, but history is history.

3 They have a lot of other roster holes to fill. The Vikings need offensive linemen, defensive linemen, defensive backs and a skilled wide receiver — among other things — after having a lot of roster turnover in free agency (much of it necessitated by salary cap issues and a desire to get younger). With so many positions of need, drafting a QB could be seen logically as a luxury.

Maybe what ends up happening is some sort of compromise — drafting a QB, but maybe a little later like the fourth or fifth round. We’ll have plenty of time to mull it over and look for clues in the next few weeks.

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