McFeely: Trey Lance to the Vikings? Be still our hearts
49ers fielding calls about former NDSU quarterback and Minnesota Vikings are said to be in the mix
FARGO — Matthew Coller figures the Trey Lance-to-the-Minnesota Vikings train began rolling even before the 2021 NFL Draft, when it was fun to imagine the homegrown kid playing for the home-state team. Even then, the question for the Vikings was: Who is their next quarterback after Kirk Cousins?
Lance went to the San Francisco 49ers in that draft, the No. 3 overall pick out of North Dakota State, thanks to a hefty ransom paid in first-round picks. The Marshall, Minn., high school product was going to replace the oft-injured, immobile Jimmy Garoppolo as The Guy in the Bay Area.
Coller is an entrepreneurial go-getter who covers the Vikings for his Purple Insider website, a credentialed member of the Professional Football Writers of America. He writes, he podcasts, he does videos. He described the current Twin Cities buzz about the former Bison quarterback this way on a recent podcast: "It's now been about 700 straight days of people asking me about Trey Lance."
Yes, the Trey-to-the-Vikings speculation has reached hypersonic mode, thanks mostly to a brief item written by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that reported the Vikings had talked to the 49ers about Lance at the recent NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
"Per a league source, the two teams talked about Trey Lance," Florio reported. "The source doesn’t know whether that’s currently happening. The Vikings have since restructured the Cousins contract. They’d take a significant cap hit ($38 million) if the Vikings trade Cousins before June 1.
"But the Vikings need an answer for 2024, and beyond. It’s unclear whether they truly think Lance could be the answer."
Is a potential Trey Lance trade a good idea for the #Vikings?— Purple Insider (@Purple_Insider) April 21, 2023
On the latest Purple Insider Podcast @MatthewColler & @TFG_Football discuss the Lance rumors and draft targets at QB and CB.
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Coller, reached in sunny Florida for additional insight into his thoughts on Lance ending up in Minnesota, admitted being a skeptic for a long time on a potential deal. He used the phrase "conspiracy theories" in describing some of the chatter about how Lance could land in Minnesota.
"You have to be realistic about it, but you can start to connect the dots and you can kind of make it work," Coller said. "For the longest time, I was like 'That's not going to happen.' Now ... I'm not so sure."
There are two lines intersecting that make this a possibility.
First is the Vikings' desire to move on from Cousins and find their next franchise quarterback. Cousins is 35 years old and entering the final year of his contract. Minnesota elected to restructure his deal instead of extend it, signaling that the team is ready to be done with the veteran.
The problem is the Vikings don't have an obvious choice to replace him.
The line intersecting that is Lance's status in San Francisco. Once seen as that franchise's long-term QB, the 23-year-old's first two years have been rocky and strewn with injuries. The 49ers gave Lance the starting job in 2022 after trying to scuttle Garoppolo, but an injury in the third game ended the former Bison's season.
Garappolo replaced him, was subsequently injured himself and yielded to Brock Purdy. The rookie was sharp, leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship game and gaining the mantle of San Francisco's next starting QB.
Alas, Purdy sustained a serious elbow injury in the NFC Championship game that led to surgery and the possibility he might not be available to start 2023.
Both general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan recently acknowledged that Purdy is their presumptive 2023 starter.
So multiple teams have inquired regarding a trade for Lance, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The 49ers haven't initiated the discussions and a trade isn’t imminent, the newspaper reported.
The Vikings are among those teams.
It makes sense. The Vikings need a future quarterback, the Niners might believe Purdy is their guy and Lance is still viewed a youngster with huge long-term potential.
"It all kind of screams for the Vikings to take a shot on Trey Lance," Coller said.
Reality might not be so simple.
Would the Vikings and 49ers do a deal that swapped Cousins and Lance and involved some draft picks? Could Cousins be dealt to another QB-hungry team while the Niners and Vikings do a separate deal involving Lance? For sure, the Vikings would have to rid themselves of Cousins to clear the path for Lance.
But Cousins can't be traded before June 1 without Minnesota taking the salary cap hit and the quarterback has a no-trade clause, so he could nix any deal after June 1 and play out his contract with the Vikings before becoming a free agent.
"There are just a lot of moving parts," Coller said.
And there is the question of whether the 49ers really view Purdy, literally the last pick in the 2022 draft, as their sure-fire franchise quarterback. Do they want to send away Lance, a young quarterback they viewed as worthy of the No. 3 overall pick who cost them a fortune in draft capital, before they really know what he has to offer?
Lynch and Shanahan didn't dismiss the idea of dealing Lance when asked about it at the NFL owners meetings in March.
"We like Trey on our team right now," Lynch said. "We always joke, Kyle and I, we’d trade each other if someone gave us a good enough deal. So we listen to everything."
Said Shanahan: "I hope all three of (our QBs) are with us and I don’t want to lose any of them. But we’ll listen to anything."
Not exactly slamming the door on trade rumors.
Coller, though, flips things around. If a quarterback whisperer like Shanahan is willing to entertain offers for Lance and possibly trade him, does that mean the coach has determined Lance doesn't have what it takes? Has he given up on Lance?
Buyer beware, in other words.
"Why would he be willing to do this?" Coller said. "You have to ask that question. That would be red flag, in my view."
We'll let Florio, of Pro Football Talk, have the last word.
"He needs a fresh start," he wrote of Lance. "The real question is how much will the 49ers want for him? They overvalued Jimmy Garoppolo, which made it impossible to trade him. Will the 49ers look to save a little face, given the huge investment they made to get Lance (three first-round picks and a third-round selection)? Or will they take any criticism in stride, pointing out that they also got their current starter, Brock Purdy, with the last pick in the 2022 draft?
"Regardless, Lance is available. Whether it’s the Vikings or someone else (like the Titans or the Texans), Lance could have a new home for 2023. For his sake, he needs one."
Trey Lance, Marshall native and former Bison star, with the Vikings? Be still our hearts.