A Deep Dive Into The Ross Blacklock and Jalen Reagor Trades

As NFL teams trim their rosters down to 53 players, Minnesota Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has been actively wheeling and dealing to end the month of August. On August 30, hours after cutting projected defensive line starter Armon Watts, Adofo-Mensah struck a deal with the Houston Texans to acquire third-year defensive lineman Ross Blacklock in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round pick.

That same day, it was rumored that the Vikings would be making a deal for Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jalen Reagor, the player who was infamously selected one spot ahead of Vikings superstar Justin Jefferson in 2020. Within 24 hours, the Vikings and Eagles had a deal: Adofo-Mensah sent a 2023 seventh-rounder and a conditional 2024 fourth-rounder to Philadelphia in exchange for Reagor. In response to the trade, the Vikings cut second-year man Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

Today, I am going to take a deeper dive into these trades and why they were likely made.

Why Did the Vikings Exchange Watts for Blacklock?
The Vikings surprised a lot of people when they cut Watts early Tuesday morning, but it may have been done for salary cap purposes. Watts’ breakout 2021 campaign (five sacks and two forced fumbles) increased his base salary to $2.54 million, which could have been too much to pay for someone whose previous season may have just been a fluke. On the other hand, Blacklock has a salary of just $1.33 million, for a difference of $1.2 million.

It’s worth noting that Blacklock is a year younger than Watts, and was a higher-rated prospect coming out of college. This is nothing against Watts, but there is a reason why he was a sixth-round pick and Blacklock was a second-round selection.

There was also the possibility that Watts couldn’t have been a great scheme fit in new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s 3-4 scheme, which sends in three defensive lineman and also sends outside linebackers in as the primary pass rushers. Watts’ run defense is better than Blacklock’s, but Blacklock is a better pure pass rusher and a player who seemed to be improving in his second year with the Texans. After recording just 14 tackles and no sacks in his rookie year, Blacklock recorded 22 tackles to go along with two sacks and a forced fumble in his second year. Watts, on the other hand, had been a depth piece the Vikings’ defensive front until last year, when an injury to former starter Michael Pierce forced him into starting duties. If you take out last year, Watts has career stats of 44 tackles, two sacks (same as Blacklock), and one forced fumble (same as Blacklock). So if you really think about it, Blacklock is really just a younger version of Watts, and comes a lot cheaper as well.

So, the Vikings basically traded a guy in Watts who had been a rotational depth piece on the defensive front for a player in Blacklock who was not only a starter for Houston, but also seems to be an ascending player whose potential can be tapped into more.

Jalen Reagor To The Vikings Made Perfect Sense From The Get-Go
Ever since the Eagles drafted Reagor over Jefferson in 2020, Reagor became a popular meme among Vikings fans as he underdeveloped in Philadelphia while Jefferson became a superstar in the Twin Cities.

Well, how ironic is it that the two receivers who have been forever linked since that fateful April night are now teammates.

And to be totally honest, Reagor to the Vikings has really made sense from the get-go.

When projected WR4 Olabisi “Bisi” Johnson went down with a season-ending torn ACL in the preseason finale at Denver, many fans assumed that the aforementioned Smith-Marsette would assume that role in addition to the punt return duties he was supposed to handle in 2022. However, Smith-Marsette also struggled with drops and his punt returning skills were not up to par. Reagor may not have been the player many fans were expecting when he got drafted in 2020, but his punt returning skills are much better than that of Smith-Marsette. Reagor has returned 35 punts in his first two NFL seasons, going for a total of 321 yards and averaging 9.2 yards per return. Some of his returns include a 73-yard punt return touchdown in his rookie season, and 229 punt return yards on 31 touches last year. His receiving skills may not be up to par, as his career high in receiving yards is 396 (accomplished in his rookie season), but let’s not forget who the Vikings’ WR coach is- Keenan McCardell. This is a guy who made K.J. Osborn into a solid WR3 for the Vikings (and someone who would be a WR2 on many teams today), and overall does a good job of elevating his receivers. Maybe McCardell can do wonders with Reagor as well.

This isn’t anything against Smith-Marsette, but it says something when you total five total catches in your rookie campaign. Those catches may have gone for 116 yards and two scores, but five catches in eight games is nothing to be proud of by any means. Reagor may not be the best receiver out there, but at the very least he has caught 31 passes in each of his first two seasons. There’s also a reason why Reagor was a first round selection and a top-five ranked receiver in the 2020 draft class, while Smith-Marsette had to wait until the sixth round to be selected.

For the price of two mid-to-late round draft picks, the Vikings upgraded at WR4 and at the punt returner position. This is why Reagor to the Vikings made sense all along.

Overview of These Trades
The Vikings might have slightly downgraded at these positions, but they are getting players whose full potentials haven’t been tapped into yet. Both Blacklock and Reagor are only entering their third seasons as players, and both still have time to turn around their careers. Maybe with this new coaching staff, both players can become quality starters in this league. Adofo-Mensah paid a small price for these guys, and if they can properly develop into the quality players they were drafted to be, these trades can be won by the Vikings.

By getting rid of Watts and Smith-Marsette, in addition to some other players, Adofo-Mensah is making something clear: this is HIS team, not Rick Spielman’s. He wants to put his stamp on this organization and so far, in the span of eight months, he has done that in a big way.

We will find out within the next two years how these trades have panned out, but for now, welcome to the Vikings, Ross Blacklock and Jalen Reagor. We wish you nothing but the best of success in purple and gold.
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