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Vikings Draft: Re-Examining Draft Priorities

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The conventional wisdom is that the Vikings need offensive linemen early and often. Is that the most important position group that needs to be addressed though?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

When free agency began, the Minnesota Vikings had one over-riding priority, and it was painfully obvious. They needed to upgrade a horrendous offensive line, particularly the left and right tackle positions. Within two days, they had secured the services of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, and it's presumed they will be penciled in as the starting  left and right tackles respectively. As we turn the page on free agency (for the most part) and focus on the draft, most people seem to think that the offensive line is still the Vikings main priority, at least early in the draft.

But is it?

I'm not saying that the Vikings can simply ignore the offensive line in the draft, but when you look at the defensive line, and factor in the possible career-ending injury to Shariff Floyd, there's a case to be made that the offensive line isn't the main priority now. Let's take a look, shall we?

First off, let's take a look at the current depth chart for both the offensive and defensive lines. First, the offense:

Offensive Line Depth

Position

Starter

Back Up

3rd String

4th String

LT

Riley Reiff

T.J. Clemmings

Reid Fragel

Maquis Lucas

LG

Alex Boone

Zac Kerin

C

Joe Berger

Nick Easton

RG

Jeremiah Sirles*

Willie Beavers

RT

Mike Remmers

Rashod Hill

Austin Shepherd

Before we do a deep dive, please note that the depth charts for both lines, at least after the two deep, is pure conjecture. Take it with a grain of salt, and things will most assuredly change.

*Mike Zimmer has stated that there is no starter at RG, but has said the other four positions have pretty much been decided, barring unforseen circumstances. So let me explain my reasoning.

I put Sirles in at RG because he was the starting RT in the season finale against the Bears, he did okay in spot duty at guard last year, and he had the most snaps between him, Easton, and Kerin. But you could also make a good argument for Nick Easton or Zac Kerin starting at C, with Berger kicked to the starting RG position, Sirles as the main backup there, and Bob's your uncle you've got a starting five. The bottom line in all of that remains that Sirles and Easton are your top two backups on the interior line right now, so it's kind of a 'six of one, half dozen of the other' argument right now.

Now, let's look at some contracts (note: all contract information taken from Spotrac). Reiff and Remmers just signed, obviously, so they'll be under contract for the next 4-5 years. Alex Boone signed as a free agent last year, and will be around for the next three years, so those are three positions that appear to be locked up for the near future. Joe Berger mulled retirement but will be back for 2017. After that, though, you can't really plan on him being around.

Now the question becomes how you feel about Sirles, Easton, and Kerin. Sirles is playing under a one year, exclusive restricted rights free agent deal, and will be a restricted free agent in 2018. Easton's initial contract expires at the end of 2017, and he will also be a restricted rights free agent at the end of the year. The same goes for Kerin as well. Basically, 2017 will be a season long rehearsal for all three to see if any of them can develop into a long term answer for the Vikings.

If you think two of the three can develop into starting material...and I am in that camp, based on the limited action I saw during last year's Injuries On Parade, you find yourself in a situation where maybe offensive line isn't the top priority in the upcoming draft. And if you like all three of them, there's a case to be made that your biggest issue on the offensive line isn't starters, but depth.

Why? Well, let's look at the defensive line:

Defensive Line Depth

Position

Starter

Back Up

3rd String

4th String

LDE

Brian Robison

Danielle Hunter

B.J. Dubose

Sterling Bailey

DT

Shariff Floyd*

Tom Johnson

Toby Johnson

NT

Linval Joseph

Shamar Stephen

RDE

Everson Griffin

Datone Jones

Stephen Weatherly

Brian Robison is this year's Chad Greenway, and I mean that as no disrespect to either him or Greenway. Robison is on the back end of his fine career and took a pay cut to come back for 2017, just like Greenway did last season. He's still a good situational player, and one of the core locker room leaders, but it feels like 2017 will be Robison's last one in purple and the year that Danielle Hunter eclipses him as the starter. So after 2017, you've got a probable depth issue, and with the way the Vikings rotate defensive linemen, that's a much bigger issue than on the offensive line. Of course, that's assuming all the offensive linemen don't get injured, so yeah.

I'm not too concerned about Hunter's contract status, which expires at the end of next season, as I would be surprised if the Vikings didn't re-negotiate a long term extension with him either this year or next. That said, nothing is a given, and he can become an unrestricted free agent. We've talked about Floyd's injury here, and although he was listed as a starter in our depth cart above, it's tough to see him playing again barring a dramatic reversal of fortune. Tom Johnson tore his hamstring in the Colts debacle at the end of the season, and was placed on Injured Reserve at the tail end of last year. When you add in the fact he's 32 and in the last year of his contract, there's a good chance 2017 will be the last season for him in a Vikings uniform. And if he can't rebound from the injury, we may have seen the last of him here.

And now there's a huge hole at defensive tackle.

Linval Joseph was a great free agent pickup for the Vikings in 2015, but 2017 will be the third year of his four year deal with the team. Joseph will be 31 at the end of his deal, and if he's still playing at a high level I expect the Vikes will want to retain his services. But nothing's guaranteed in free agency, so unless they work an extension for him we can't count him as rock solid after next year.

We could also make the same argument for Everson Griffen, who all of a sudden is 28 and will reach the end of his contract at the end of next season as well. The problem with 'just re-sign Griffen and Joseph' is that there are younger guys that are coming due for some big pay days, like Xavier Rhodes and Hunter, and there's not always enough money to go around for everyone. If there's a cap guy that could make it work it's Rob Brzezinski, but all of a sudden there's a ton of uncertainty on the defensive line, both short and long term. When you add in the one year 'prove it' deal for Datone Jones, the uncertainty grows a little more.

Outlook:

Offensive Line: Barring injury, the Vikings are, surprisingly, in a lot better shape this year than they were last year. The guys they have ready to assume three of the five starting jobs are young, healthy, and under contract for the near future. They have fourth starter in Joe Berger that they have to plan on replacing, but you can make an argument they already have his replacement on the roster in either Easton or Kerin. You also have Sirles as a guy that will come in and compete for the starting job at RG, and the team has all season to figure out if they want to keep any or all of them. And as bad as T.J Clemmings and Willie Beavers played, they are still young, and there's a chance that with more seasoning they can develop into decent backups.Yes, there are still depth issues that need to be addressed at both tackle spots unless you think one of Fragel, Lucas, or Shepherd can develop, but for all the dire talk about the offensive line, there's a fair amount of stability there, short and long term.

Defensive Line: You can't say that about the defensive line, though.The DT spot occupied by Floyd and Johnson has a ton of questions right now with both guys dealing with the after effects of an injury. And if the Vikings don't re-sign any players after the 2018 season or use the franchise tag on one, they could find themselves without any of the starters or backups that are currently in their two deep depth chart. Woof.

Do I see that happening? No I don't, but I don't think you can say with any degree of certainty that they will re-sign all of them, either. In a best case scenario, Floyd and Johnson are healthy, and the Vikings extend Joseph, Hunter, and Griff, with Robison no longer in the picture after 2017. Worst case scenario is that everyone is gone after the end of 2018 and we're all wondering what the heck just happened.

I think the most likely scenario (and this is just me thinking out loud) is that Floyd will sadly be forced to retire and the Vikes will roll with Tom Johnson, assuming he's healthy. And if Johnson isn't healthy, now you need an immediate starter on the line, unless you think Datone Jones is that guy...and he can bolt after this season. I think Johnson will be okay for this year, though, because if he hadn't been the Vikings would have probably been a lot more aggressive in free agency at that position, no offense to Jones intended.

Still, the Vikings defensive line looks a lot like the offensive line did this time last year. They're hoping that guys coming back from injury can re-claim their starting jobs, they had a mid level free agent signing (Jones compares to Boone last year), and long term, there could be a lot of guys moving on with no answers currently on the roster.

It's a position group that's going to need to be addressed in multiple ways, and it could very well start with this year's draft.