After his rookie season in 2012, it looked as though offensive tackle Matt Kalil was going to be the long-term answer at left tackle for years to come for the Minnesota Vikings. However, the past three seasons have provided many more questions than answers, as Kalil regressed in 2013 and 2014 before a mild bounce-back season in 2015.
The Vikings picked up his fifth-year option, guaranteeing him the second-highest salary on the team for the 2016 season. From what Kalil has said in an interview with 1500 ESPN, if he continues to struggle this year, it won't be because he isn't healthy.
"Yeah, there's absolutely no pain in my knees anymore," Kalil said. "My hip feels awesome. I'm feeling pretty good compared to a couple years ago when my knee was kind of garbage, so to speak. It's nice to be healthy. That definitely made me mentally tougher throughout the year. Grew up a lot, so just ready to play and have fun."
Not having to have any procedures done in the offseason meant that Kalil could get himself back into the weight room in February rather than having to wait until the summer time, which should put him significantly ahead of the curve compared to the past couple of seasons.
As the article points out, this will be the third season in a row that Kalil will have a different left guard next to him, with free agent signee Alex Boone plugging into that spot for this season. You'd have to think that Boone would be a step up from Charlie Johnson in 2014 and Brandon Fusco's relatively disastrous shift to the left side last season. He also has a new offensive line coach for the first time in his five NFL seasons, with Tony Sparano taking the place of the fired Jeff Davidson.
Kalil has said that he would like to remain in Minnesota for the long term, and this is the definition of a make-or-break season for him. If he can get closer to his rookie season form, the Minnesota offense is going to be significantly better and he could be in line for a fairly large payday. If he doesn't show significant improvement, there's a very good chance that the residents of Minnesota will know him as the guy that owns the pizza restaurants rather than as the Vikings' left tackle.