Vikings won't force a trade to draft a QB

EAGAN, Minn. -- The scenario seems so smooth and obvious.

Eyeing a draft with a deep class of quarterbacks, the Minnesota Vikings part ways with veteran incumbent Kirk Cousins. They sign a $10 million bridge starter in Sam Darnold and then acquire a second first-round pick (No. 23 overall) to pair with their own spot at No. 11, presumably to power a draft-day trade into the top 5. Then they draft their quarterback -- maybe North Carolina's Drake Maye or perhaps Michigan's J.J. McCarthy or even Washington's Michael Penix Jr. -- and move seamlessly into a new era.

Anyone who has been around the NFL, and the Vikings' franchise in particular, knows how rarely the path to a franchise quarterback is smooth and obvious. And so as general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah gave his annual pre-draft press conference last week, it was worth asking: Is there a world where you won't (or can't) draft a quarterback?

"You have to be ready for everything," he said. "It's a very deep class. But I do think you have to be ready for every scenario. If there's elite players at premium positions on the board, I don't think you're supposed to reach or force or anything like that. It's just not what I believe, all the while understanding that [quarterback] is the most important position in the sport. So, it's calculating both those things at the same time."

NFL general managers try to be as vague as possible this time of year, but if there is one thing Adofo-Mensah has been clear about, it's that -- despite the team's clear need for a quarterback -- there will be a limit to the amount of resources he's willing to use to draft one.

As he has discussed the strategy involved in potentially moving up from No. 11, Adofo-Mensah has noted the potential for irrational decisions from other teams, stressed the importance of "walkaway prices" and insisted that "your only leverage in the negotiation is your willingness to do something else."

It's certainly possible that Adofo-Mensah is just trying to emphasize in a public way that he won't sell out to draft a quarterback, even if the external view is that he has no choice. But he has already demonstrated his willingness to stand firm on a number this offseason by refusing to offer Cousins more than one fully-guaranteed season, a decision that precipitated Cousins' departure. And there are plenty of roadblocks that could make the task exceptionally difficult.

It's quite possible, if not likely, that the top three teams on the board -- Chicago, Washington and New England -- will each draft a quarterback. And there is the potential for at least three teams other than the Vikings making a play for a quarterback in the top 10. The New York Giants already have the No. 6 pick, while the Denver Broncos at No. 12 and the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 13 are both candidates to trade up. And that list doesn't account for any stealth teams that have kept their plans more private than others.

"You're in a blind auction in a sense," Adofo-Mensah said. "And you don't know when the next person is going to raise their hand and call a name. And so, you've really just got to be strategic about how you position yourself. At the end of the day, you've got to ask yourself, 'Am I going to regret not doing this trade? If that player gets picked this spot, whatever this spot is, and I was willing to give up this? Can I sleep at night?'

"That's how we've got to look at the board in every place. And then we'll come up with our valuations for every player in that way, and we'll make our calls and we'll go from there. And ultimately, if the league is willing to do something that we are not willing to do, we can't let that necessarily dictate our actions."

None of this is to downplay the possibility of the Vikings pulling off a trade, or at least drafting a quarterback at some point in the first round. It remains the likeliest scenario, all things considered, especially when you remember they have no second- or third-round picks.

Adofo-Mensah also said this week that "just because something's risky doesn't mean you have to stay away from it," but that phrase could also apply to passing on a trade.

The reason to establish limits on a trade, Adofo-Mensah has said, is the risk of depleting the ability to build a winning team around it. The Vikings had an aggressive offseason in which they signed 12 veteran free agents, including at least five who are likely to start, in part by using the cap space they saved by not paying Cousins.

"If you look at our offseason, it's kind of the go between, between quarterback assets and everything else," Adofo-Mensah said. "I think our draft will follow the same suit. I don't think you want to necessarily go take these huge swings and not be able to build a team around them."

For that reason, he said, the Vikings have made sure there are "multiple guys that we are in love with just on an outright basis" as well as another tier of quarterbacks they would love because it would require fewer assets to draft them.

"We've got a great plan," Adofo-Mensah said, "and we feel great about where we are."