The Chicago Bears have been searching for a franchise quarterback since, well, how long is forever?
The Vikings have been pining for a dominant offensive line anchored by a star left tackle for at least a decade, if not longer.
It stands to reason that both franchises will look back on the 2021 draft — and picks that were inextricably linked to each other — as defining moments that will either put them on the path to stabilizing positions that have been lacking or continuing negative long-term trends.
I talked about Justin Fields — chose No. 11 overall by the Bears after an aggressive trade with the Giants — on Friday’s Daily Delivery podcast. La Velle E. Neal III’s column on left tackle Christian Darrisaw, taken by the Vikings at No. 23, reminded me of just how much both rookies have to learn and how much both franchises are hanging on their ability to find success quickly.
We learned after the draft that the Vikings, who originally had the No. 14 pick, had made an attempt to move up to No. 8 in a draft with Carolina. The Panthers released a video showing that the Vikings called them offering picks No. 90 and 43 plus No. 14 to move to 8, where they presumably would have either taken Fields or tackle Rashawn Slater.
(Note: The conventional wisdom after the video leaked is that the Carolina exec on the phone misspoke and that the Vikings were really offering No. 90 and No. 143 — third and fifth round picks — in addition to their first rounder because the Vikings had pick 143 but not 43. That said, I’m not so sure. I wonder if they had a contingent deal with San Francisco to swap two third-round picks for No. 43, then ship that to the Panthers, because that would actually be fair value for No. 8 instead of what has been pilloried as a lowball offer if 143 was really the intended pick).
Regardless, Carolina rejected the trade offer. Fields and Slater stayed on the board as Carolina picked defensive back Jaycee Horn. By pick 11, it was starting to look like Fields might fall all the way to the Vikings at 14 — and force them to make a big decision. Instead, the Bears jumped up to get him in a trade.
When Slater went off the board at No. 13, the Vikings traded down from 14 to 23 — eventually selecting Darrisaw as their left tackle of the future while the Jets, who moved up to 14, took lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Imagine if the Vikings really had moved up to No. 8 and drafted Fields, creating a more immediate succession plan to Kirk Cousins than drafting Kellen Mond in the third round. Or imagine if the Bears hadn’t been so bold to move up to get Fields, and he was still there at No. 14. The Bears would probably still be seeking their QB of the future, and the Vikings would be less settled in their search for an anchor at left tackle.
As it is, minicamp has been a reminder that nothing is guaranteed. Darrisaw has a long way to go to be the player the Vikings need him to be.
“He is a very talented and athletic kid. He is very, very smart and works very hard,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We’ll just have to see. We’ve got some other guys that are doing well at tackle, too, [Oli] Udoh. Rashod Hill, he is a big veteran guy who is a terrific pass protector along with Brian O’Neill. [Darrisaw] is competing and he’s got to continue to compete. It’s a tough job. They’re all pretty tough, honestly.”
Fields is projected to start the season backing up Andy Dalton, which is probably both smart and not what Bears fans want to hear.
“Some of the stages that we’re at right now, which is very normal for a rookie, that we’re going through with Justin — Andy has already conquered that,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said.
But when the Vikings and Bears play twice late in the season — very late, in fact, on Dec. 20 and in the Jan. 9 finale — both rookies could be featured prominently.
And we’ll be in the beginning stages of sorting out who got the best of a draft night that will define both franchises for years to come.