Watts, a 2019 sixth-round pick, was listed as a starting defensive end on the team’s depth chart throughout the preseason. But, come the 53-man roster deadline on August 30, Watts was waived for unclear reasons.
He reacted on social media, publishing a tweet with the mind-blown emoji.
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The Vikings traded for a questionable replacement in Houston Texans defensive lineman Ross Blacklock, sending Houston a 2023 sixth-round pick in exchange for Blacklock and a seventh-rounder.
The trade has left Vikings observers curious about the team’s plans moving forward — whether Blacklock is the presumptive replacement for Watts or if he’s merely a depth add for a bigger addition on the defensive front.
Background on Blacklock
Blacklock, a 2020 second-round pick, is a raw talent with potential that was untapped in Houston.
A do-it-all athlete growing up in Houston, Blacklock played running back and linebacker, was an all-district tight end as a sophomore in high school before moving to defensive line. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler projected Blacklock as the fourth-ranked defensive tackle coming out of TCU due to his athleticism.
“Overall, Blacklock doesn’t get home enough on tape, but all the traits are there with his blend of size, quickness and power to develop into a disruptive presence, projecting as a versatile lineman who can play anywhere from the nose to the five-technique,” Brugler wrote.
Appearing in 29 games over his first two seasons in the league, Blacklock picked up 30 total tackles and two sacks. He was hoping for a breakout season in 2022, but the move to Minnesota spells some doubt after the Texans moved on from a homegrown prospect to move up one round in next year’s draft.
Meanwhile, Watts is coming off a 2021 campaign where he started nine games and tallied five sacks.
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert didn’t make any assertions, but he did appear to have expectations of a larger plan than a mere swap of Watts for Blacklock.
“We’ll wait and see what the Vikings’ plans are here, but hard not to notice the timing of this deal and the pending waiver of presumed starter Armon Watts,” Seifert tweeted in response to the Vikings’ trade with the Texans.
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Vikings Clear Cap Space for a Move on the Horizon?
Minnesota made a pair of significant cap-saving moves on cutdown day, signaling a potential move on the horizon.
By parting ways with Watts, the Vikings created $2.5 million in cap space. Minnesota also cleared $1.5 million off the 2022 books by trading guard Jesse Davis to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Acquiring Blacklock counts for $1.3 million on the 2022 cap sheet, meaning Minnesota created roughly $2.2 million in space after all transactions are settled.
The Vikings currently have an estimated $8 million in cap space, per Spotrac. The inclination is Minnesota will strike a deal with high-profile free agent Ndamukong Suh after months of rumored talks with the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle.
Suh and Watts both grade with a 0.00 WAR (wins above replacement) grade by Pro Football Focus (PFF), making an acquisition for the veteran lineman questionable considering Suh’s asking price is double what Watts would have commanded in the final year of his rookie deal.
Meanwhile, PFF’s senior analyst Eric Eagar finds Blacklock to be an upside addition that, when looked at in a vacuum, was a valuable trade considering they acquired Blacklock for less value than a sixth-round pick.