Yesterday the Minnesota Vikings traded for C Brett Jones, sending a 2019 seventh round pick to the New York Giants to get him. There are a few things to consider when looking at this trade, and I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about them. Overall, GM Rick Spielman made a really good trade, at almost no cost to the Vikings.
Let’s break it down a little more and find out why.
Jones is good, and has versatility. Most importantly, Brett Jones is a good football player, and makes the Vikings offensive line instantly better. Last year Pro Football Focus had him ranked as the 15th overall center, coming in with a score of 68.6. He was the 22nd ranked run blocker with a score of 60, but he was the fifth best overall pass blocker, grading out at 82.1. He started 13 games last season, and was one of the few bright spots on a team that went 3-13. He also has experience at left guard, starting two games there last year, and made his NFL starting debut in 2016 as a left guard for the G-Men.
By comparison, Pat Elflein came in at 21 overall with a grade of 66.1, 16th as a run blocker with a 63.7 score, and 29th as a pass blocker, scoring 67.6. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but I thought Elflein played better than his PFF scores indicate, so I take all these grades with a grain of salt. That said, if you look at the reaction from the Giants fanbase over the trade, there aren’t a lot of positive reviews.
That’s anecdotal, for sure, but fans generally have a sense of who is and who isn’t a good player. Not to the degree coaches and GM’s do, but still, when a majority of fans don’t like losing a player in a trade, I kind of feel the Vikings got a good deal. Most of the reaction is that Jones is a good offensive lineman, and Giants GM Dave Gettleman did this more to free up salary cap space than anything else.
Salary Cap implications. Speaking of salary cap, Jones is going to make $2.9 million this year, and according to Spotrac the Vikings now have $5.7 million in cap space remaining. The one remaining core player left to sign is LB Anthony Barr, who is playing on the 5th year option of his rookie deal. He’s making $12.3 million this year, and if the Vikings re-do his deal, they could, in theory, lower his cap number by spreading out his guaranteed money over an extra season or two. In other words, there’s still room to get a deal done with Barr if both sides are willing. One could make an argument that the Vikings are going to wait until teams have to get down to 53 players, scan the waiver wire to make another move or two to solidify the roster, then finalize a Barr extension.
One final thing to remember is that both Nick Easton and Jones are unrestricted free agents next year, and with Easton out for the year with a herniated disc in his neck this could very well be a season long audition for Jones. I don’t see both guys coming back here next year, and an injury the type Easton suffered might be a long term deal. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Jones here for more than one season if he plays well this year. He’s only 27, and could be a four or five year solution at a reasonable price if things work out.
What does this mean for Pat Elflein? Even though Mike Zimmer said he thinks Elflein will come off the PUP this week, there’s a good chance that Elf remains on the Shelf (thank you, I’ll be here all week) for awhile. Nothing the Vikings have said concerning Elflein’s timetable for return has been accurate so far this preseason, so to assume this latest update is correct is something I’m not necessarily buying. Trading for a guy that has predominantly played center and not guard tells me that Elflein might be out longer than we think, as in start the season on the PUP. If that’s the case, he’s out the first six weeks of the season.
If you buy that theory, then it’s safe to assume that Jones will come in and play center for the forseeable future based on Elflein’s moving recovery timetable. If Elflein does come back this week though the line is fixed, at least on paper. If you like the idea of Jones at guard (and I do), Jones fills the hole there, Elflein moves back to center, while Tom Compton and Danny Isidora step back to the primary backup for the two guard spots. If you buy that theory, that gives the Vikings offensive line a look of:
LT: Riley Reiff
RG: Mike Remmers
RT: Rashod Hill
That allows them about two weeks to work together as a unit to get ready for week one. It’s not optimal, but last year’s number one o-line didn’t take a snap together in pre-season, and they did okay. If Elf doesn’t come back, then Jones is the center and one of either Compton or Isidora starts at left guard, I would assume.
I view this as essentially a move that gets an upgraded Nick Easton back, at the exact same price, for just a seventh round pick. Is a guy the caliber of a replacement level, starting interior lineman in the NFL worth a seventh round pick? THIS IS A RHETORICAL QUESTION OF COURSE IT IS!
Spielman has learned his lesson about the offensive line. Rick Spielman has been rightly criticized for his botched o-line rebuild plan in 2016. Guys signed during free agency were sub-par (Hi Andre Smith), and counting on injured players to return (John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt) was a gamble that didn’t pay off.
Since then, though, Minnesota has treated the offensive line with a sense of urgency, and the Jones trade is another example of that. It’s tough to predict and deal with injuries, and I can’t fault Spielman for the Bubonic Plague that hit the o-line in 2016. You CAN fault him for the players that had to come in and play in the aftermath of all of that, though, and you can also fault him for being slow to react and sticking with who he had when it seemed pretty clear who he had was going to be pretty sub-par.
I would argue that Spielman has learned his lesson from that fiasco, though. I don’t fault him for waiting a week or two to make a move here; you have to give players currently on the roster an opportunity to step up and make the most of it. But where Spielman was slow to act or moved to inaction in 2016, he waited as long as he could and then made a move to upgrade where it was needed this year. And depending on how cutdown day shakes out, he might not be done.
TL; DR: This was a good move to make the offensive line better. It didn’t bust the salary cap, and it gives the Vikings more depth, flexibility, and talent on a line that needed it.
What grade do you give the Brett Jones trade?
This poll is closed
A: Great move
B: Good move, could have been better though
C: Meh. Jones doesn’t move the needle
D: Stupid trade
F: Fire Spielman