A 2019 sixth-round pick, Watts had taken significant steps forward every year in Minnesota, most recently starting in nine games and tallying five sacks last season. He was listed as a starting defensive end on the depth chart throughout the preseason, making his release on Tuesday the biggest surprise of the Vikings’ cutdown day.
But the following afternoon is where the real shakeup occurs, with teams making waiver claims across the league to fortify their 53-man rosters ahead of Week 1.
And Watts landed far too close to Minnesota.
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Bears Claim Watts Off Waivers
The Chicago Bears claimed Watts off waivers on August 31, per the league transaction wire. He’ll face his former team on October 9 on the road and January 8 at Soldier Field.
Watts was one of the most highly valued defensive linemen on waivers and is deemed an immediate starter on a Bears defense that is undergoing seismic changes under first-year general manager Ryan Poole. Watts, entering the final year of his rookie deal, has a de-facto audition for a long-term deal with Chicago after he was groomed by former Vikings defensive line guru Andre Patterson over the past three seasons.
Meanwhile, Minnesota saved face by trading for Houston Texans defensive lineman Ross Blacklock. Blacklock, a 2020 second-round pick, underachieved in Houston over the past two seasons but has the raw athleticism the Vikings hope to unlock. Minnesota traded a sixth-round pick for a seventh-rounder and Blacklock.
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.
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert appeared to have expectations of a larger plan than a mere swap of Watts for Blacklock, although he has no knowledge of any concrete deals in the works.
“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 Attempting to Make Another Move?
Minnesota has maintained talks with five-time Pro Bowl veteran defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, whose asking price is in the range of $9 million. If the Blacklock trade was a depth add with the intent of signing Suh, getting rid of Watts would make sense.
Otherwise, it seems the Vikings are banking on getting more out of Blacklock or rolling with Johnathan Bullard or James Lynch as the starting right defensive end.