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Assessing Spielman’s 2020 Draft Trades

Notes on trades that were made, and a few that were not

Rick Spielman has made the most in-draft trades of any GM in the league since he became the Vikings GM in 2012, and once again this year he was near the top of the list in the number of trades made during the draft.

ESPN recently reported that the Vikings made the best trade of the 2020 NFL Draft, which you read here on the DN. But what about the rest of the Vikings trades - those that were made, and a few that were not ?

Spielman Took Advantage of Teams Wanting to Trade Up

Pro Football Focus recently assessed all the trades made during the 2020 NFL Draft, and while ESPN thought the Vikings trade with the 49ers was the best trade in the draft (for the Vikings), by a couple measures, the Vikings trade with the Saints may have been the biggest fleecing by Trader Rick.

In any case, by most measures the Vikings came out ahead in all of their draft trades, according to PFF. See tables below.

PFF measured all the draft trades according to four metrics: their own Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric, the approximate Value (AV) metric used by Pro Football Reference in assigning a value to a player’s performance, the Jimmy Johnson trade value chart (JJ), and the updated Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart (FS), which takes a contract-based approach.

By nearly every measure, in every Vikings trade, the Vikings came out ahead according to these metrics. Twice, the Vikings came out slightly behind the Jimmy Johnson chart, which may be the least accurate valuation metric for trades, but nevertheless continues to be the standard by which most trades are valued, including the 2020 NFL Draft. But in every other measure, in every trade, the Vikings came out ahead, and sometimes way ahead.

As I mentioned, the Vikings may have fleeced the Saints the most in their 3rd round trade, but the trades with the 49ers, Bears, and Ravens were also fairly one-sided in favor of the Vikings by these metrics.


If you want to trade up, you often are forced to pay a premium. And Trader Rick demanded, and got, some pretty good premium value for trading down.

But What Goes Down, Doesn’t Always Go Up

On the other hand, it was reported that the Vikings wanted to trade up at least twice during the draft, but were unsuccessful.

Peter King reported that the Vikings were looking to trade up with the Buccaneers who picked at #14 in the first round, unclear for which player, but were unsuccessful. Mike Zimmer also said the Vikings were attempting to trade up for Justin Jefferson, and were unsuccessful, but also fortunate as he fell to them at #22 anyway.

Jason La Canfora also reported that the Vikings were attempting to trade back into the 2nd round to land Justin Madubuike, but that trade up attempt was also unsuccessful. That would seem to jive with what Rick Spielman said at the end of the first round, as he predicted the Vikings may trade up during Day 2. But either he was unable to find another team willing to trade down, or he was unwilling to pay the premium they demanded. Either way, it didn’t happen.

Spielman Also Screwed the Packers

In selecting WR Justin Jefferson, Spielman also thwarted him potentially going to a division rival in need of a receiver. Apparently Jefferson was also a favorite of Aaron Rodgers and some in the Packers organization so selecting him at #22 may have prevented him from going to the Packers.

It was also reported that the Packers wanted to trade up with the Vikings in the first round, but Spielman refused. Apparently Packers GM Brian Gutekunst thought a team was trying to trade up from the 2nd round for QB Jordan Love, and was aggressive in wanting to trade ahead of that team. It’s not clear if that thought was correct, or if Gutekunst would have actually taken Love or another player at that point, but in any case Spielman refused the trade offer. He did trade later with a division rival, however, allowing the Bears to trade up for DE Trevis Gipson.

Lastly, adding insult to injury, Spielman allowed the 49ers to trade ahead of the Packers at #25, who reportedly had intel that the Packers would take WR Brandon Aiyuk, who they also wanted. It’s not clear that intel was correct - the Packers ended up taking Love - but it’s possible the 49ers taking Aiyuk may have forced that move at the last minute.

Update on the Trent Williams Trade Attempt

Besides the in-draft, pick(s)-for-pick(s) trades Spielman was completing or attempting, he was also involved with an on-going attempt to trade for Redskins left tackle Trent Williams.

The Vikings had been talking with the Redskins for some time leading up to the draft, in an attempt to secure a trade for Williams. However, it was reported that on the morning following the first round of the draft, Williams didn’t want to be traded to the Vikings.

Williams and his agent denied that, but Ian Rapoport, who made the report, stood by his reporting and said Williams’ statement was false. Williams was later traded to the 49ers.

But in the aftermath of the trade, Williams appeared to clarify his position vis-a-vis the Vikings:

The Vikings, long term, and what I looked at long term, it didn’t sync up,” Williams said, via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. “They just really dropped out. It wasn’t me refusing to go.”

After Day 2 of the draft, Spielman was asked about the potential trade for Williams, and he said that after Day 1, they felt that Ezra Cleveland could fall to them in the second round, so they decided to go that route. That didn’t seem to jive with Williams simply nixing the trade to the Vikings, but his later clarification seems to.

It may well have been that the Vikings were looking not only to trade for Williams, but also secure a contract extension, as Williams is on the final year of his contract. At the same time, left tackle Laremy Tunsil negotiated a new, market making extension to his contract, valued at $22 million/year.

Given all that, it may have been that the Vikings were looking to extend Williams at something of a discount, given he hadn’t played in a year, his injury history, and age, but Williams may have wanted to bet on himself for a year, not agree to a discount, in hopes of landing a more lucrative contract in 2021.

It has been reported that the 49ers, despite giving up a 5th and 3rd round pick to land Williams, will not seek a contract extension with Williams at this point. That was fine with Williams, who more or less confirmed that he’s willing to bet on himself this year.

Meanwhile Spielman, in adding to his remarks about going with Ezra Cleveland rather than Trent Williams, said he was also happy to go with Cleveland because he’d have him under contract for the next four years.

Bottom Line

Rick Spielman looks to have gotten more value in his in-draft trades than any other GM in the league during the 2020 draft. He was also fortunate that Justin Jefferson, who he tried to trade up for, fell to him at #22 anyway. Securing him ahead of the Packers was a divisional win for Spielman, who also refused to trade down with the Packers in the first round.

But in his other trade up attempt, and that for Trent Williams, he was unsuccessful - most likely because he was unable to come to acceptable terms to secure the deals.

Time will tell if Spielman’s Plan Bs - Ezra Cleveland and perhaps James Lynch or Hercules Mata’afa - prove to be better or worse than his apparent Plan As, Williams and Madubuike, but one thing seems pretty clear: Williams would have been a much more expensive option for the Vikings than Cleveland. Had the Vikings agreed to the same deal the 49ers did, either Williams would’ve played poorly this upcoming season and not been worth his contract, or he would’ve played well and demanded $20 million/year in a contract extension - as he reportedly had done earlier on in his trade negotiations. It would be very unlikely the Vikings would have extended Williams for that price, especially given their salary cap situation. But either way, he would’ve likely been a one-year rental.


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