It' no secret that the Vikings offensive line was a collective weak link on a fairly pedestrian offense. If they want to take the next step towards an elite team in the NFC, it was pretty obvious they would need to upgrade the line in free agency, the draft, or both.
That overhaul began today, with two big signings. The first one was G Alex Boone, who had spent his entire professional career with the San Francisco 49ers. The second was kind of a surprise re-signing in G Mike Harris, who was thought to be on the way out the door after he wanted to explore free agency.
And in the matter of two hours, the offensive line got a lot better, at least on paper. Last season, the offensive line got shredded by injuries while they were still in Mankato, and had to play catch up all season long. C John Sullivan was the first to go down, and RT Phil Loadholt joined him on IR not long after. In their place the Vikings were fored to start a journeyman in Joe Berger, and a raw rookie in T.J. Clemmings.
Berger was also supposed to be the team's primary back-up, so not only did the Vikes lose two starters, their shallow depth was exposed right away. They also moved Brandon Fusco from RG to LG, and inserted Harris into the RG spot.
So on opening day, an o-line that was supposed to be Matt Kalil-Fusco-Sullivan-Harris-Loadholt became Kalil-Fusco-Berger-Harris-Clemmings. And when you consider the switch from RG to LG for Fusco, the Vikings had essentially four new starters on the line for 2015 compared to 2014.
And Matt Kalil, who had a really bad 2014, was the anchor of that line. In Kalil's defense, he played better in 2015 than he did in 2014, but his performance was still pedestrian. As was the rest of the offensive line, because as much as people would like to place the blame for all the line's woes at Kalil's feet, he was far from the worst player on that line. But Fusco and Clemmings struggled most of the year, while Berger and Harris had solid years. But there was a lot of inconsistencies and breakdowns, and the play of the offensive line really caused the Vikings offense to sputter and struggle in 2015. Pass protection was a particular weakness, as Teddy Bridgewater was hit more often than a Ronda Rousey sparring partner. Still, it was that patchwork line Adrian Peterson ran behind, and he led the league in rushing, with 1,485 yards and 11 TD's.
But if the offense was going to get better, an offensive line upgrade was mandatory.
Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon. Well, a couple days earlier, actually, when it was announced Loadholt was coming back on a re-structured deal. NOW fast forward to Wednesday afternoon, when Boone signed and Harris re-signed. Boone has played both RG and LG, along with spot T duty as an injury fill-in. Berandon Fusco was a borderline All-Pro as a RG in 2014, but really struggled in his move to the left side last year. It's not unreasonable to assume Boone will be inserted as the starting LG, with Fusco moving back over to his more natural right side.
It's still not clear what's the Vikings will do with John Sullivan, so let's assume Joe Berger is the incumbent C moving forward. The Vikings line, from L to R, could very well look like this next year, from L to R: Kalil, Boone, Berger, Fusco, and Loadholt. Backing them up will be Clemmings and Harris, and an offensive line that a patchwork unit with no depth is suddenly strong starting five with quality depth backing it up. And if you throw Sullivan back in the mix, you have almost two full offensive lines that are starting caliber.
That is a substantial upgrade, and one that should be a line equally good at opening holes for Peterson while providing adequate protection for Bridgewater. And if one is to believe NFL insiders this time of year, there might be more cavalry on the way:
The #Vikings aren't done on the offensive line. There's still money left to spend there.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) March 10, 2016
As to who the mystery cavalryman is, I don't know. Although Robinson confirmed Jason LaCanfora's tweet of Jermon Bushrod being the possible target, Robinson's following tweet was borderline free agency porn:
That makes it sound like a big time impact guy, and I am excited to find out who it is. But when you consider yet another Robinson tweet confirming Mike Zimmer's vow to AP to upgrade the line:
It makes sense that the Vikings aren't done here. Although if I'm being honest with you, if they don't add another player along the offensive line for the rest of free agency, I'm happy with what they've already done there.
A hectic day one for the offensive line might not be over, and a good line might even get better. So stay tuned.