It’s been a week since the Vikings hosted former Broncos guard Dalton Risner for a visit. That visit ended without an offer extended by the Vikings, and local Vikings beat writer Darren Wolfson reported that there hasn’t been any movement from the Vikings to acquire Risner since then.
The Vikings could clearly benefit from bringing in a veteran guard that has posted better numbers in pass protection than either Ezra Cleveland or Ed Ingram, but there appears to be some impediment to an offer being extended and a deal getting done.
League Staying Away from the Top Guard on the Free Agent Market
The issue regarding Risner is unclear, at least outside of the league’s inner circles. Risner reportedly had interest from seven teams, but nothing seemed to come from that. For whatever reason, Risner- who’s been the top available free agent guard on the market for months- has only had one known team visit with him- the Vikings. There is a coaching connection between the Vikings and Risner, as Vikings OL coaches Chris Kuper and Justin Rascati worked with Risner in Denver. The rest of the league has not shown any real interest in Risner, which is unusual absent some issue that is causing teams to stay away. It’s doubtful every team in the league is set at both guard positions.
What’s the Issue?
This of course leads to the question of what is the issue that’s keeping the league away from Risner, and perhaps may also be an impediment to a deal getting done with the Vikings.
Risner was a second-round pick for the Broncos in 2019, 41st overall, out of Kansas State. He was a roughly average guard for the Broncos over his four seasons there- above average in pass protection and a little below average as a run blocker. He gave up a total of 100 QB pressures over four seasons with the Broncos. He graded near 70 in pass protection each season according to PFF. By contrast, Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram combined to allow 118 QB pressures last year alone. But the Broncos and GM George Paton never approached Risner with a contract extension, which Risner said was a tough pill to swallow. The Broncos signed former Raven Ben Powers to replace Risner early in free agency.
Risner was a hometown product in Denver, having grown up in nearby Wiggins, CO and was a Broncos fan growing up. He was also their Walton Payton Man of the Year candidate last season and was named the 2022 recipient of the local PFWA chapter’s Good Guy Award. The honor is given annually to a Denver player who exemplifies enthusiasm, cooperation and honesty while dealing with reporters. He only missed four starts in four years for the Broncos and was a consistent performer over those four years as well according to PFF.
But late in what was a nightmare season for the Broncos last year, Risner had a run-in with quarterback Brett Rypien, which he later explained, and other Broncos said was based on a miscommunication. A couple weeks later in early January Risner was placed on injured reserve with a hyper-extended elbow which sprained his UCL joint, missing the last game of the season. It was diagnosed as needing 2-4 weeks for recovery, but no surgery.
The Rypien incident, while unfortunate, doesn’t seem likely to be a deterrent for teams to pursue Risner. But it is a bit of a red flag that the Broncos never made an effort to extend Risner after four seasons in Denver, opting to sign free agent Ben Powers at $13 million/year instead. Powers didn’t play as much as Risner over his four years in Baltimore, nor was he as consistent, but he allowed just 13 pressures in his last season with the Ravens.
Risner’s past performance, while no guarantee of future performance, suggests he could be an upgrade in pass protection for the Vikings. And yet the Vikings made no offer to the top free agent guard on the market during his recent visit. Why?
When Risner entered free agency, he talked about wanting to be valued, which is player-speak for wanting to get paid. For most players at any position, their first veteran contract is their biggest opportunity to be paid. They’re no longer beholden to the rookie contract pay grade, and a third contract is less certain for most. So that can lead to players digging in a bit when it comes to negotiating their first veteran deal.
It’s unclear if Risner is looking for a contract not in line with his performance, age (28), and other factors like injury history, but one thing that has been clear and consistent is that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has been a bargain hunter with his free agent signings. Byron Murphy, Marcus Davenport, Alexander Mattison, even Josh Oliver could be considered value signings.
For Risner, as a mid-tier guard, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings were thinking of a one-year, $5 million prove-it deal- or something similar in that range. Risner or more likely his agent, may have indicated he’s looking for a stronger offer, and he may also want a longer one. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Risner camp was looking for a multi-year deal averaging $10 million or so in average annual value. Of course this is just speculation, but the comparables for Risner suggest something along the lines of a four-year deal with a $9.5 million AAV.
I doubt Kwesi is looking to make that sort of deal. Risner may only be a bridge player for the Vikings until Ed Ingram proves more solid but could also be a replacement for Ezra Cleveland next year. In any case, with Brian O’Neill already a top contract and Christian Darrisaw sure to be an even bigger one in a couple years, the Vikings likely can’t afford a third big contract in the offensive line group- even if it’s only in the $10 million AAV range. They may have Cousins beyond this year, and Justin Jefferson’s new deal will rival what they pay Cousins. Hockenson will also not be cheap. They’ll need some money to pay defenders too.
If Risner’s camp communicated their contract expectations along the lines of his comparables, the Vikings may not have bothered to offer him a one-year prove-it deal- which would’ve been a waste of time.
But time grows short now for the Vikings to sign a potential starting offensive lineman, as they need time to get acclimated and learn the system. It’s already pretty late, in fact. But Risner’s camp could be eyeing the trade deadline, rather than an August deadline, for getting a deal done. An injury to a guard on a contending team could land Risner a better payday than that which the Vikings might provide now.
But at some point, the Risner camp may need to re-evaluate their contract demands, or risk not being signed this season- which doesn’t help his situation next year either. With only the Vikings hosting Risner for a visit, it could be that Risner’s camp has overpriced its product, causing potential suitors to balk. But they may be counting on a team, suddenly desperate, to meet their price.
Failing that, they may eventually communicate openness for a lessor deal, which would provide Kwesi with a bargain hunter’s opportunity. For Risner, it may be the only opportunity out there- which makes it the best one. Should he earn a starting job and play well, it could lead to more and/or better offers next year. Not playing this year is unlikely to.