Last offseason, the Minnesota Vikings picked up the fifth-year contract options on their two first-round picks from the 2012 NFL Draft, safety Harrison Smith and left tackle Matt Kalil. The fifth-year option gave the Vikings control over the contracts for both players, locking in salary figures for both players but also giving them an opportunity to negotiate something long-term with both players if they wanted to do so.
Now, there's absolutely no doubt that the Vikings will work out some sort of extension with Smith. . .and likely a very lucrative one at that (we'll have more on him later on). But the bigger question mark is Kalil, and the Vikings are going to have to answer that question sooner rather than later.
Because of the way the fifth-year option works, the Vikings could release Kalil without any negative effects on their salary cap, and save themselves a little over $11 million in cap space. However, if the Vikings have not released Kalil or worked out some sort of an extension for him at a lower salary figure by the time the new league year starts on 9 March, every penny of Kalil's $11,096,000 salary cap figure for the 2016 season becomes guaranteed.
Kalil did perform better in 2015 than he did in 2014, but that merely raised the level of his play from "Good lord, he's awful" to "well, sometimes he's not bad." I'm not sure if the Vikings are going to want to give $11 million to someone for being "not bad." Kalil has the second-highest salary cap number on the team going into the 2016 season (behind only receiver Mike Wallace, who also doesn't figure to be long for the Vikings at that figure), and if the team isn't convinced that Kalil can return to his Pro Bowl rookie form, they may move on and take a run at someone in free agency. They could also go after someone at the position in the 2016 NFL Draft, as losing their starting left tackle would push that position immediately to the top of their priority list.
The fate of right tackle Phil Loadholt may also be tied to what the Vikings do with Kalil, according to Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Loadholt has a salary cap figure of $7.75 million and is coming off of his second season-ending injury in two years. According to Vensel, the Vikings might bring back either Kalil or Loadholt for 2016, but it's highly unlikely that they'll bring back both. If they did, they'd be spending nearly $19 million on a pair of tackles that, to put it mildly, are significant question marks going into the 2016 season.
The Vikings have a lot of questions to answer along their offensive line, which is one of the weakest spots on the roster. We may start getting the answers to some of those questions in the very near future.