The Vikings are not expected to trade Danielle Hunter, but they will send another of their contract-year players away. The Jaguars are acquiring fourth-year guard Ezra Cleveland, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero, Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo. In a corresponding move, Jags announced that 2020 fourth-rounder Ben Bartch has been waived.
Cleveland expressed interest in a Vikings extension this offseason. Instead, he will relocate to Florida to join the first-place Jags in his contract year. A 2020 second-round pick, Cleveland has been a starter for much of his Vikings career. It will cost the Jags only a sixth-round pick to pry Cleveland from Minnesota, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com tweets. Dianna Russini of The Athletic clarifies that Jacksonville will send a 2024 sixth-rounder which originally belonged to the Panthers.
This transaction comes months after the Vikings and Jaguars moved close to completing a Hunter trade. The sides circled back but settled on Cleveland as the exchange piece. The Boise State alum has started 49 career games, converting from college tackle to NFL guard. He will likely be on track to start opposite Brandon Scherff in Jacksonville. Cleveland will reunite with Jaguars offensive line coach Phil Rauscher, who was previously on the Vikings’ staff.
The Jags will acquire Cleveland despite the experienced blocker having missed the past two games due to a foot injury. From Minnesota’s view, the team has a veteran ready to step in. The team signed four-year Broncos starter Dalton Risner early this season, ending the 2019 second-round pick’s longer-than-expected free agency stay. The Vikes also drafted Ed Ingram in the 2022 second round, installing him at right guard. Minnesota does not have much money devoted to its O-line, but Christian Darrisaw is a clear candidate to join right tackle Brian O’Neill in receiving a big-ticket extension.
The 49ers showed interest in adding Cleveland, Russini’s colleague Matt Barrows reports. San Francisco’s weak point on offense has shown to be their play up front, so it would have come as little surprise if they invested a Day 3 pick in a starting-caliber addition. Instead, the 49ers have turned their attention to a blockbuster defensive add in the form of edge rusher Chase Young.
Jacksonville ranks mid-pack in a number of offensive categories, posting middling numbers both through the air and on the ground. Cleveland’s run blocking PFF evaluations have generally far outweighed his grades in pass protection, though in this season the two are nearly identical. If he can carry over that two-way effectiveness with the Jaguars, he could play a signficant role in another Jacksonville playoff run and boost his free agent stock in the process.
Adam La Rose contributed to this post.