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Vikings' Kevin O'Connell says adding another first-round pick about 'flexibility' in 2024 draft, sees 'positive situation' for QB Sam Darnold 

The Vikings' first big move of the post-Kirk Cousins era came in the form of an asset swap.

Ten days after landing a second first-round pick (along with a seventh-round selection) in the upcoming 2024 draft, Minnesota stands in an interesting position. They could -- as many expect -- package their two first-rounders (Nos. 11 and 23) to move up to select a quarterback. Or, as head coach Kevin O'Connell explained Monday at the Annual League Meeting, they could use both to add blue-chip talent from a class he believes is loaded with it.

"I think you view it as extra flexibility in a draft where between our pick at 11 and the way we're looking at this draft at pick 23, we think there's going to be some really good players available, if we were just to stay at those positions and take players, maybe a quarterback, maybe a couple defensive players," O'Connell said on Monday's The Insiders, wisely keeping his target range vague while on the record. "I think it's going to be a big-time offensive draft at the top, so when those marquee defensive players start to go, could be in a range around that 11th pick for us, but I think it was about flexibility."

If you read that and came away feeling as if you'd learned little about Minnesota's draft strategy, you're not alone. O'Connell isn't about to show his team's hand and give up leverage in a potential deal to move up to take a quarterback, so he'll play up the strengths of the class without naming specifics.

It was intriguing, though, to hear O'Connell admit the trade-up scenario is very much a possibility, provided they find a party interested in doing business with them.

"Yes, we want to, if we identify a player that we would like to go up and try to add to our football team -- first and foremost, there's got to be a willing partner to do that and I think there's going to be processes that play out, conversations here and onto the future," O'Connell continued. "We'll figure out if we're able to do that, but yeah, I think it was ultimately of having the flexibility of having two ones in what we think is a really strong draft, and I don't think we're the only ones that view this draft like that."

When entering a draft in need of a quarterback of the future, it's always better to have extra ammunition to potentially swing a deal. Minnesota did that with their trade with Houston, who was happy to take two second-round picks (one in 2024 and the other in 2025) and a sixth-rounder to exit the first round.

All that's left now is the passage of time, and the many preparatory exercises involving mock trades to get ready for what could be a pivotal night in Vikings franchise history.

Let's not forget the new addition Minnesota already made to the quarterbacks room, either. After one year spent behind Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold left San Francisco for Minneapolis, where he is currently the best option on the roster.

"Always been a fan of Sam going back to -- you know, I've known him for a long time -- watching him progress through his college career and then ultimately being a high draft pick, having done a full process on him then," O'Connell said of the former No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 draft. "We all go through a quarterback journey in this league, and I use that term very lightly for myself, as well. But it's a journey where you learn and you continue to grow, and ultimately you just want to find yourself in a position in the future to be the best version of yourself and all the things you've learned along the way.

"I think Sam's at that point in his career. I think his best football is ahead of him because of how he's handled the last couple years, whether it's going 4-2 down the stretch in Carolina in '22, or when you turn on the tape of his work in San Francisco, you can tell Kyle (Shanahan), Brian Griese -- these guys did a great job in the next phase of his career. Fundamentals, techniques; things that you look for to see growth.

"I'm excited to get going with Sam because I think we can pick up where he left off last year. Like I've talked about already, love the group of guys that we have around the quarterback position in our offense right now, and I think it's a going to be a really positive situation for Sam."

The Vikings should be expected to only speak positively of Darnold and his new opportunity in Minnesota. But April -- the 25th of the month, specifically -- will tell us whether they're truly ready to strap their hopes to his back and see if he can carry them to success.

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