Throughout the past several years, the offensive line of the Vikings has seen more than its fair share of changes. Whether it was injuries, performance issues, or leaving the team in free agency, there have been dozens of different faces shuffled in the trenches in Minnesota for most of this decade.
But for the past seven years, one of those faces remained constant. The face of a man that provided a calming veteran presence in a locker room that had more than enough turnover and turmoil. A face that often had varying forms of unkempt facial hair. The face of a proud family man from humble football beginnings that always led by example and played wherever the team needed him most.
In 2018, that face will no longer be in the Vikings locker room. Offensive lineman Joe Berger has announced his retirement from the NFL. Berger’s statement viaTom Pelissero:
Longtime OL Joe Berger is retiring. His statement: pic.twitter.com/Jk4LW5K00S— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 23, 2018
Berger was garnering interest from the Vikings and other teams this offseason, but has decided instead to hang up his cleats.
Taken in the sixth round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Panthers, Berger was only the third player ever drafted out of Michigan Tech. He was waived and signed to their practice squad. Berger never actually saw any action for Carolina because the Miami Dolphins picked him up for the final three games of his rookie season. After an injury kept him out in 2006, the Cowboys signed him in 2007, where he appeared in just four games over the next two seasons.
In 2009, Berger finally got his chance when he rejoined the Dolphins. His versatility caught the eye of Miami’s Head Coach Tony Sparano (yep, that Tony Sparano) and he eventually won the starting center gig. Berger started 20 games at center in Miami over the next two seasons, but he was eventually cut in 2011 because the Dolphins had signed Ryan Cook. (Yep, that Ryan Cook.)
The Vikings signed Berger right after the 2011 regular season began. Although he was signed as a backup, Berger ended up starting seven games at center and both guard positions due to injuries along the line. In 2012 and 2013, Berger played mostly special teams and had a couple of spot starts.
In 2014, Berger re-signed a one-year deal with the Vikings and became the starter at right guard for the final nine games of the season after Brandon Fusco went to Injured Reserve. It was the last season he would be considered a backup. In 2015, Berger once again came to the rescue after an injury. After John Sullivan went out for the season after back surgery, Berger stepped in and started all 16 games at center for the NFC North champions. He was the highest rated center in the NFL by Pro Football Focus that season—not bad for a career backup.
In 2016, Berger beat out Sullivan for the starting center gig, starting all but two games and playing all three interior line positions while the rest of the offensive line crumbled around him. After the team drafted Pat Elflein in the 2017 draft, Berger moved back to be the starting right guard. When Elflein missed two games this past season, guess who was ready to fill in? You guessed it—Joe Berger.
Berger’s career tells a tale of unflinching determination and grit. He was drafted in the late rounds from a small school and spent the most of the first half of his career toiling in obscurity. But each time an opportunity arose for him, he made the most of it. His versatility and dedication transformed him from an also-ran into a key part of a very good offense.
According to Ben Goessling, the Vikings wanted to keep Berger around for another year, but added Tom Compton to the roster after Berger informed them of his decision. From a football perspective, Berger’s retirement makes offensive line of of the Vikings’ biggest needs in the draft. Replacing a player with that much experience and the ability to play three positions won’t be an easy task for Rick Spielman and the front office.
One of my favorite moments of each Training Camp in Mankato the past several years has been watching Berger’s children run around on the field of Blakeslee Stadium after the Saturday night scrimmage. While we’ll miss him blocking for our favorite team, we here at Daily Norseman wish nothing but the best for Berger in his retirement. Thanks for everything, Joe!