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Vikings Free Agency: Offensive Line Thoughts

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The Vikings had some needs as free agency opened, and they're addressing them. Which makes the fans mad, apparently.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As free agency opened, the Minnesota Vikings had one one 'must do', and that was to get two starting tackles on the offensive line. Yes, they had in-house free agents to address, and maybe they need to get a running back and a linebacker depending on what they did with in-house players, but above all else, they had one mission--get a starting left tackle, and get a starting right tackle.

Within 24 hours, the Vikings had signed Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, two starting tackles that have made the offensive line better now than it was on Friday morning.

Notice I didn't say the Vikings needed to get 'two hall of fame starting tackles', or 'two perennial All-Pro starting tackles', but two starting tackles. Reiff and Remmers fit that bill, and they fit it better than the two tackles the Vikings had starting in 2015, and the 17 guys that rotated through the position last year.

Yet, if the reactions from Vikings fans are any indication, when the team didn't land Ron Yary and Anthony Munoz, free agency was a failure, and Rick Spielman should've been fired.

I'm sorry kids, but I'm not seeing the disaster here. The thing that I always try to remember about free agency, (at least with offensive linemen) is that, except in really rare cases, top flight talent isn't going to be available. If they are, they're probably on the downside of their career, and have just a couple years left. And if top flight talent DOES hit the market, you're one of 32 teams that will be competing for that talent.

Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers aren't Hall of Fame tackles, but when you compare them to what the Vikings have had to deal with the last couple of seasons, they are leaps and bounds better, and that's not really debatable. I mentioned this in the Remmers post, but it's worth looking at again. Using Pro Football Focus as a measuring stick, let's take a look at the Vikings tackles in 2015 and 2016, and compare them to Reiff and Remmers.

2016 PFF Scores:

TJ Clemmings 28.3
Matt Kalil 36.9
Andre Smith 39.1
Jake Long 63.9

Riley Reiff 67.5
Mike Remmers 66.1

2015 PFF Scores:

Matt Kalil 68.4
TJ Clemmings 39.7

Riley Reiff 77.5
Mike Remmers 72.1

I know a lot of folks (and I was leaning hard towards being one of them) wanted to see Matt Kalil return, based on the theory he's finally healthy, and is a good player when he is at 100%. But Kalil hasn't been at 100% in literally five years, so if you're playing the law of averages, the safe bet is that at some point Kalil won't be 100% in 2017, either.

So I'll concede that when healthy, Matt Kalil is as good as, if not better than, Riley Reiff. But if Kalil can't stay healthy, I'll take Reiff, because a healthy Reiff is the last line of defense before throwing T.J Clemmings out there. And if nothing else, the Vikings line got better as much by who ISN'T in the starting lineup as much as who is.

When you add Kalil's love-to-be-hated relationship the fans have with him, it's probably better that the Vikings found a replacement. As to Remmers/Clemmings...please, don't even start. If you think Clemmings can be serviceable, or a potential upgrade over Mike Remmers in any way, shape, or form, go stand in the corner.

The other main complaint against Spielman is that the Vikings overspent for average talent. Yes, they did, and you'll get no argument from me. But when you need to improve your offensive line, you have one of two ways to do it. Either through the draft, or through free agency. If you choose free agency you always overpay, that's just the nature of the beast. Call me crazy, but I think fans would have been a lot more upset if they gave Matt Kalil all the money they gave Reiff, and just passed on Remmers and rolled with Clemmings. No, they didn't get Andrew Whitworth, Ricky Wagner, or Russell Okung, but they got better.

With no first round pick this year, upgrading through the draft was going to be even more sketchy than it already is, unless the Vikings made a big trade to get back into the first round. But even if they did that, how sketchy a proposition is upgrading the line through the draft? I found this offensive line success rate chart that was compiled and posted by my friend Eric Bakker over on a Facebook Vikings fan page. Check it out:

Looking at that chart, I think we can all agree the Vikings refusal/unwillingness to draft offensive linemen high in the draft finally came home to roost last year, which I think is part of the anger towards having to dip into free agency to get guys that are just average. Yes, you'll find a John Sullivan or a Matt Birk in the late rounds every now and then, but for every one of those guys you'll have four or five guys like David Yankey, Chris DeGeare, or Travis Bond.

'But Ted', you ask, 'who are those guys?'

Exactly.

There is no argument that one of Rick Spielman's failings as GM, arguably his greatest one, is that the Vikings simply have not drafted and developed offensive linemen that are starting quality, hence the need to dip into free agency and spend money. And if they really went overboard and overspent for guys like Wagner or Whitworth, it might have affected their ability to get an extension done for Xavier Rhodes and Stefon Diggs when those bills come due. They didn't, so not only did the Vikings improve, they still have the flexibility to deal with players that will need to have their deals re-done in the near future.

How is this a bad thing?

The bottom line is that the Vikings made the offensive line better via free agency and didn't bust the salary cap in out years to do it. They have given Sam Bradford (or Teddy) and the rest of the offense a fighting chance, so color me happy, and let's see if they spend a couple picks early in the draft and get an offensive lineman that might actually be okay for a few years.

As to the in house free agents the Vikings have lost, the only one that concerns me is Captain Munnerlyn. Every other in-house free agent that has signed elsewhere is either replaceable, or has already been replaced. And I can understand the Vikings not wanting to overpay for Munnerlyn for a couple reasons. For one, he wanted a five year deal, and the Vikings would only do three. When you realize Munnerlyn is almost 30, a three year deal makes sense from the team perspective, and with guys like Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander behind him, not wanting to overspend makes a bit more sense if you go with the Vikings probable assumption that they will continue to develop and also need contract extensions.

I agree that Munnerlyn at nickel was the Vikings best option last year, but if Terence Newman comes back for one more year, a four to make three of Newman, Rhodes, Waynes, and Alexander has the potential to be pretty good.

And keep in mind, free agency isn't done. The Vikings are putting out feelers for running back and wide receiver, and I expect them to either bring back Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson, or find suitable replacements for both..