The Vikings sent cornerback Mike Hughes to the Chiefs on Thursday, in a trade that closed an injury-riddled and enigmatic three-year run for the 2018 first-round pick in Minnesota.
Kansas City sent the higher of its two 2022 sixth-round picks to the Vikings, who also gave up a seventh-round pick in the deal.
The move ends Hughes’ time in Minnesota after he played just 24 games in three seasons, unable to realize his promise as a cornerback and a return man first because of a torn ACL and then due to a neck injury that affected him for more than a year.
The Vikings’ decision to pass on offensive line help and take Hughes with the 30th overall pick in 2018 raised some eyebrows, given the depth of their cornerback group at the time. But when Hughes returned a pass Jimmy Garoppolo threw to him for a touchdown in his first career game in a win over San Francisco, coach Mike Zimmer said after the game, “I mean, that’s why we drafted him. Everybody was complaining about taking a corner. I’m glad we had him today.”
Hughes would intercept just one more pass with the Vikings in the next three years. He tore his left ACL after six games as a rookie; he returned in time for the start of the 2019 season, played 14 games and capitalized on some opportunities afforded to him because of injuries to Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Hughes broke up a career-high nine passes that year, while forcing and recovering two fumbles.
But the final regular-season game brought the injury that would define the rest of his time in Minnesota.
The Vikings were locked into the NFC’s final wild-card spot before their Week 17 home game against the Bears, and rested many starters in the game, but both Hughes and Mackensie Alexander played in the 21-19 loss to Chicago. Alexander, who’d already been dealing with a knee injury, tore his meniscus in the game, and Hughes cracked a vertebra in his neck.
He was a full participant in the Vikings’ first day of practice in advance of their wild-card game against the Saints, before the team realized the extent of the injury and conducted additional tests that showed the cracked vertebra. Hughes was placed on injured reserve, and though he returned in time for training camp last season, he sustained a neck injury related to the one he’d suffered in 2019, playing just four games before heading to injured reserve.
The Vikings declined Hughes’ fifth-year option earlier this month, in a widely-expected move that reflected how far he’d fallen from their plans in a short time. They used first- and third-round picks on Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler in 2020, signed Patrick Peterson to a one-year deal this spring and brought Alexander back on a veteran minimum deal. Hughes became expendable enough that the Vikings decided to recoup cap space rather than give him a final chance to prove they’d been right about him in the draft.
Trading Hughes will save the Vikings about $1.825 million in cap space; they’ll keep the final $1.314 million of Hughes’ signing bonus on their 2021 books.
He had been working out this spring and was optimistic about his chances of playing a full season, according to a league source; he’ll instead try to reboot his career with the two-time AFC champion Chiefs while the Vikings move on.
Hughes finished his time in Minnesota with 13 pass breakups, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 80 combined tackles in 28 career games.