Why Cutting Riley Reiff is a Massive Mistake for the Minnesota Vikings

Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

On Sunday morning, the Minnesota Vikings dropped a bombshell with the addition of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. Adding the 25-year-old speed rusher was a perfect fit for the Vikings beleaguered defensive line, which was down to Eddie Yarbrough, Stacy Keely and Jalyn Holmes with Danielle Hunter sitting out of his 12th straight practice with “a tweak.” With the potential of signing Ngakoue next year, it’s a move that serves well with the Vikings hopes of competing in 2020.

However, like a college student that decided to open a tab with his credit card on a Saturday night, the Vikings realized that they have to pay for their new toy on defense by fitting him under the salary cap. Their solution is to reportedly cut Riley Reiff, which may be the worst possible move heading into 2020.

The news of Reiff getting cut isn’t a complete shock because the Vikings were trying to acquire an upgrade all offseason. The Vikings flirted with Trent Williams during the draft until he ghosted them, fleeing to San Francisco. After Ezra Cleveland was selected in the second round, it was assumed that eventually Cleveland would take over protecting Kirk Cousins‘ blindside, meaning Reiff’s days were numbered.

But as Cleveland pounded Quesaritos in order to bulk up to play left tackle, the Vikings decided to exclusively work him out at guard which meant that Reiff might be safe for at least 2020. Then the 32-year-old showed up to TCO Performance Center on Monday greeted with the Vikings’ ultimatum to take a pay cut or be cut. Reiff has reportedly chosen the latter.

The entire situation exemplifies how the Vikings have shown a complete lack of detail along their offensive line. Minnesota hasn’t had a homegrown prospect thrive on their line since Phil Loadholt was clearing paths, and although they’ve definitely taken their swings — and Brian O’Neill’s future looks promising — but they’ve produced more misses than home runs. That’s left a complete lack of depth even though the Vikings used a premium pick on Cleveland last April.

As our own Sam Ekstrom put it, the Vikings woke up this morning in a comfortable position at tackle with Reiff on one side and Brian O’Neill on the other. Instead, they appear to have adopted Billy Martin’s idea of drawing a lineup out of a hat to decide who will protect Cousins in 2020. The result has plenty of red flags.

O’Neill was the strongest lineman for the Vikings last season and some have been clamoring to move him to the left side for the first two years of his career. Perhaps if the Vikings had thought of this sooner, O’Neill could have spent quarantine learning the finer aspects of playing on the left side and getting his footwork down. Instead, he’ll have two weeks to take a crash course on protecting the blindside.

On the other side, the Vikings have seemingly chosen to replace O’Neill with Oli Udoh. Although the 23-year-old looked competent during the Vikings’ Week 17 matchup with the Bears, there’s still a concern considering that’s the only game he’s played during his short NFL career. Although it’s less of a risk than throwing Cleveland out there, Udoh still has work to do before becoming a staple of the offensive line.

Then there’s the interior, which has been lacking since Steve Hutchinson, John Sullivan and Joe Berger hung up the cleats. Pat Elflein will be on his third position in four seasons, and Dakota Dozier seems to get worse the longer he’s out on the football field. Garrett Bradbury got mowed over in pass protection constantly during his rookie season, and although he’s reportedly “lived in the gym” this offseason, there’s no guarantee it will be enough to stop the slew of interior defensive tackles/beasts in the NFC North.

That’s a group that doesn’t inspire confidence, and it’s mind-numbing to know that they’ve done this on an annual basis. Even more preposterous is that they know exactly what Cousins’ kryptonite is, but still construct their offensive line as if they have an office pool on which Smith from Green Bay is going to get to him first. At this rate, the only draw play the Vikings will be running this season is when Sean Mannion comes out with his infamous whiteboard to explain why opposing pass rushers got to Cousins so quickly before getting slammed to the turf.

It makes no sense considering there were plenty of other routes the Vikings could have taken to get the cap space needed for an emergency move during the season. Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks could all be candidates for a restructure. They could have cut another player to make cap room. They could have had Rob Brzezinski walk out to the practice field and scream “I AM KAZAAM!!!” because it seems that’s how easy it is for him to create cap room.

Instead, the Vikings ignore the biggest need on their team with a quarterback that is incapable of improvisation. Reiff wasn’t the best tackle in the league but he was at least serviceable for 2020. With him on the outs, the Vikings made their Achilles’ heel even bigger two weeks before the start of the season.

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