After the crash-and-burn fashion that the 2017 season ended in for the Minnesota Vikings, it was apparent to everyone that the biggest area of need for the Minnesota Vikings was the offensive line. The Minnesota roster was loaded, up and down, with talent at just about every other position, and with a new quarterback in charge that wasn’t nearly as mobile as the guy that spent 2017 escaping all sorts of pressure, moves needed to be made to strengthen the front line.
The moves that the Vikings made in their efforts to do this were as follows:
- Moving a solid offensive tackle, Mike Remmers, to guard. . .and watching him be fairly awful all season.
- Trading a seventh-round pick to the New York Giants for Brett Jones. . .and then not playing him.
- Spending a second-round pick on offensive tackle Brian O’Neill. . .and not playing him until halfway through the season.
- Spending a sixth-round pick on guard Colby Gossett. . .and ultimately relegating him to the practice squad, where he was poached by the Arizona Cardinals.
- Banking on Nick Easton, who is apparently the Vikings’ most important offensive lineman since Randall McDaniel, coming back from injury. . .and putting him on IR during Training Camp.
- Signing free agent guard Tom Compton. . .and then starting Tom Compton. On purpose.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer have ignored the offensive line, because it wouldn’t be true to say that. It would, however, be true to say that the moves that have been made on the offensive line have been head-scratching at best, and downright terrible at worst. Honestly, are you going to sit here and tell me that Brett Jones and Danny Isidora were so much worse than Compton and Remmers that they didn’t merit an extended look at any point this season? Because I don’t buy that. There’s no way.
Of all the offensive linemen that are on the Vikings’ roster right now, I can count exactly three that should expect to have jobs with the Vikings next season: O’Neill, Pat Elflein, and Riley Reiff. And Reiff is on that list at least partially because dumping him would probably be too much of a dead money hit on the Vikings’ salary cap.
O’Neill was much better than advertised for the Vikings this season, given that he was supposed to be a “project.” I can imagine he’ll be better with a full offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program. Same goes for Elflein. I know that he had his struggles this year, but he did spend the entire offseason (and the early part of the regular season) rehabbing various injuries from last year. Hopefully he’s healthy enough this offseason to participate in OTAs so we can see some progress from him in 2019.
Outside of those three guys, though? There isn’t one offensive lineman that should feel their spot on the 2019 Minnesota Vikings’ roster is secure. I mean, if you want to see if Easton can come back, fine, but a herniated disk is nothing to mess around with, so you certainly shouldn’t be relying on him or anything.
Much like last offseason, the focus of pretty much everything the Vikings do this offseason should be geared towards the offensive line. People can complain about Kirk Cousins all they want, and I understand the frustration with the way he played this season. However, whether anyone likes it or not, he’s the quarterback of this team for the next two seasons, so the Vikings could just as well do something to try to protect him in a better fashion than they did this year. The Vikings knew when they signed him that he wasn’t as mobile as Case Keenum, and then did nothing to try to combat that. They can’t do that for a second straight offseason.
Oh, and that Chicago Bears’ defense that we saw twice this year? The one with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Roquan Smith, et al? Well, those guys aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’re probably going to be together for the next five or six years. So, it would probably be a solid idea to at least attempt to do something to counter them. Remember when the Vikings drafted Randy Moss, and then we all laughed when the Packers used their first three picks in the next draft on cornerbacks because they couldn’t stop him? Well, that’s pretty much the situation we’re at with the Chicago defense right now. They’re going to kick this team’s ass twice a year unless the offensive line gets a significant upgrade.
Some teams have shown the ability to build offensive lines with low-round picks, undrafted free agents, practice squad players, and castoffs. The Vikings have shown that they are not one of those teams. The level of talent on the offensive line on this roster is just so far behind the rest of the team that it’s almost comical. This team needs to look at free agency, sure, but they also need to spend multiple draft picks on the offensive line, and they need to be early draft picks. No more waiting until Day 3, taking a couple of guys, and saying, “Well, we tried.” I know you don’t necessarily want to reach, but this team is in a position where no offensive lineman that they’d draft in the first couple days of the draft should be considered a “reach.”
The first step, even before evaluating the roster or free agency or the draft, is to get a full-time offensive line coach in here, and preferably a guy that’s respected and has done it before. It’s not an excuse for the performance of the offensive line over a 16-game season, but I don’t think we can fully understand just how big the tragic passing of Tony Sparano just before camp was to that unit. Sparano was a guy that had a reputation as an offensive line coach, and he was obviously someone that Mike Zimmer had a lot of trust in. I’m sure that Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko did what they could, but that’s a tough situation for anyone to be put in.
Who would that coach be? I’m not completely sure. I know that, in a perfect world. . .or, at least, in my perfect world. . .that guy would be Mike Tice. Say what you want about what happened when he was the head coach here (and I still think he got righteously jobbed by notoriously cheap ownership) or his press conferences or what have you, but that man can coach the hell out of offensive linemen. He also has the kind of cachet that I think Zimmer would respect and want on his coaching staff. I know that his time in Minnesota ended on a rough note with the Wilfs, but I’d still love to see the guy back here to coach offensive linemen. There’s almost no chance that it will happen, but like I said, he’s the one guy that immediately comes to mind when I think of offensive line coaches.
Both Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman have contracts that expire after the 2019 season, so next year they both, quite literally, have their jobs on the line. If they want to remain in the employ of the Minnesota Vikings beyond that, the line is the primary thing that they need to address this offseason.