Written By Sam Ekstrom (ZoneCoverage.com)
Leading up to free agency in mid-March, we will examine a multitude of angles pertaining to the Minnesota Vikings’ free agency approach.
Should the Vikings Be Comfortable With Backup Kyle Sloter?
Do the Vikings Need to Sign Another RB?
A Look at the Backup Tight End Options
Adding Wide Receiver Depth Should Be a Priority
As discussed for hours on offseason blogs, podcasts and talk radio shows, the Minnesota Vikings’ biggest offseason priority would appear to be the offensive line, which folded last season under a new scheme and new quarterback, allowing one of the highest percentage of pressures in the NFL. Three of their starters — Riley Reiff, Tom Compton and Pat Elflein — also missed multiple games to injury.
Reiff, the left tackle, has been reported as a candidate to move to guard, guard/tackle Mike Remmers is susceptible to being released in a cost-cutting move, and left tackle Tom Compton is a free agent. As has become customary, the Vikings have many moving parts up front, and they’ll need to restock the offensive line cupboard somehow — likely with an emphasis on the draft and supplemented through free agency.
Level of FA need on a scale of 1 to 10: 7
Even after Minnesota rejiggers its salary cap situation through potential cuts, trades or restructures, they may only have around $15-20 million of cap space with which to operate. Finding veterans on cheaper deals will be paramount, but if the Vikings wanted to dole out a larger deal and splash at one position, this might be the place to do it.
Here are some options at varying levels of cost:
Rodger Saffold: Considered a top-10 guard by Pro Football Focus each of the past two seasons in Los Angeles. Better as a run-blocker than a pass-blocker. Has 111 starts under his belt and still just 30 years old. Comes from an innovative Rams system that reached the Super Bowl.
Matt Paradis: A top-10 center each of the past three years in Denver. Another excellent run-blocker. One of the league’s best last year before fracturing his fibula in November. Has signed a series of cheap one-year deals with the Broncos but may want to cash in on his sustained success. Very familiar with Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison. Presence could create a logjam at center with Pat Elflein’s flexibility at the guard spot uncertain.
WORTH A SHOT
Ty Nsekhe: Age 33, but only 16 starts worth of wear and tear since his career didn’t really launch until age 30. Familiarity with Kirk Cousins from Washington. Can play guard or tackle but most experienced at tackle. Graded out as a top-20 tackle during stretches but in relatively small sample sizes. Nonetheless, graded as an elite pass blocker in his five 2018 starts.
James Carpenter: Plays left guard. Twenty-nine years old and had a nice bounce-back in 2018, at least in terms of pass-blocking. Played poorly for the Jets in 2017, but was solid in 2016. Part of Rick Dennison’s offensive line unit in 2018. Had his season end early with a shoulder injury.
Nick Easton: May as well bring back a familiar face who’s started 17 games in his Vikings career and is only 26 years old. Will reportedly be cleared medically to continue his career after a neck injury wiped out his 2018. Could provide cheap, reliable depth at guard if not asked to start.
Quinton Spain: Started 42 games over the last three years with the Titans at left guard. Consistently graded out as a top-30 pass-blocker but below-average run blocker. Played on a $1.9 million deal in 2018. Might be worth a try on another one-year salary if attainable.
Ben Garland: A 30-year-old guard with Kubiak-Dennison connections from a stint in Denver. An elite run-blocker who struggles mightily in pass pro. For instance, graded as the top run-blocker in football in 2017 with Atlanta but finished 87th in pass blocking.
Eric Kush: At 29 years old, he possesses versatility on the interior line and could probably play center in a pinch. Got seven starts last year with the Bears and graded out as a top-15 pass-blocker, though less adept in the run game. Comes from Chicago, so might know a thing or two about slowing the Bears’ pass rush.