Brian O'Neill's Contract Should Eventually Become a Steal

Photo credit: Jason Minto (USA TODAY Sports)

Until Brian O’Neill received his $92.5 million contract extension, rookie Christian Darrisaw was the highest-paid offensive lineman on the Minnesota Vikings. Darrisaw hasn’t even taken a preseason snap, let alone earned a starting spot. When your star right tackle is getting paid less than rookies, you have a problem, so the Vikings took care of O’Neill.

O’Neill is getting paid $18.5 million per year over the next five years, per Adam Schefter. There are no exact details on the guaranteed amount or incentives yet, but it’s a hefty contract that makes O’Neill the second-highest paid right tackle in the NFL, and the sixth-highest paid tackle overall.

There are two important unknowns regarding this contract extension: Where does he rank among other NFL tackles? And is he worth it? He has the second-highest yearly salary on the team, only behind Kirk Cousins.

There may be a couple of other players on the Vikings worth more than O’Neill, but the Vikings are being proactive by signing him to a hefty five-year deal. It’ll ensure that he’s happy and motivated and keep his salary competitive with (and eventually perhaps even a little lower than) other tackles around the league as contracts get more expensive over time.

So, how does he compare to other tackles around the league?

When it comes to run blocking, O’Neill was the seventh-highest ranked tackle overall, per PFF. The Vikings made him the sixth-highest paid tackle in the league yesterday, so it’s certainly a fair value when it comes to run blocking. He’s ranked ahead of well-known tackles like Ryan Ramczyk (NO), Duane Brown (SEA), and Tyler Conklin (CLV) in this category.

There are some factors attributing to his rating in the run game, though. For example, he is blocking for an indisputable top-three running back in the league. There is no question that O’Neill is getting credit for some of the natural ability that Dalvin Cook has. But there’s also the fact that O’Neill hasn’t had a good supporting cast on the line with him yet. We’ll see about that too this season. I think it balances out in the end.

However, O’Neill needs to improve is his pass-blocking ability. Last season, he was ranked as the 25th-best pass blocker among all tackles (with a minimum of at least 80% snaps played). While that’s not bad by any means, it definitely isn’t worth the contract he just signed. His pass-blocking ability was lower than that of Riley Reiff (CIN), Morgan Moses (WAS), and Rob Havenstein (LAR) last season.

To compare his contract to his level of play using the average of his pass blocking and run blocking, he is the seventh-highest paid tackle but the 16th-ranked tackle by NFL performance. Perfectly average, among starters. But O’Neill is still only 25 years old. So while he may still be somewhat of an unproven pass blocker, he has plenty of time to earn his contract.

There is a reason the Vikings are extending key players this offseason. This year is the first time the NFL salary cap has actually been lowered from a previous year. The cap went down 7.92%, from $198.2 million last year to $182.5 million this season.

The Vikings reworked Danielle Hunter’s deal to make him happy and save room for extending Harrison Smith and O’Neill long-term. Taking advantage of the lowered cap makes it an ideal time to lock down a player long-term and eventually make their contract team-friendly compared to the top players at their respective positions down the line.

Even though O’Neill isn’t an elite player, he may become one soon. He’s the best lineman on the Vikings’ offense. He is looking at a season with an improved cast around him and a new offensive line coordinator after Rick Dennison moved to a senior offensive advisor position. That could be somewhat of a fresh start for the line and help turn Brian O’Neill’s contract into a steal.

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