Free-Agent Options Remain if Vikings Want to Continue Bolstering O-Line

Photo Credit: Denny Medley (USA TODAY Sports)

After drafting offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw in the first round and using a third-round pick on guard Wyatt Davis, the Minnesota Vikings appear to have filled out their dance card for the offensive line.

Just how they’ll line up for the season remains to be seen, but between returning starters Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland, and Brian O’Neill; draft picks Darrisaw and Davis; earlier acquisition Mason Cole; and swing tackle Rashod Hill — plus returning depth like Kyle Hinton, Oli Udoh, Dakota Dozier, and Dru Samia — the personnel is more or less in place.

If the team is leaning towards the “less” end of that equation, there are a few potential options left on the free-agency table the Vikings could choose to add to the mix.

Minnesota shouldn’t be looking for starters; that ship sailed early on in free agency, and the Vikings clearly had a plan to rebuild their line via the draft. But that doesn’t mean they should ignore possible veteran depth that won’t break the bank. After all, the Vikings are one injury away from having to return Dozier or Samia to the lineup — and that didn’t go especially well last time around.

Austin Reiter

The Kansas City Chiefs cleaned house along their offensive line, and Reiter was among those shown the door. He’s been more than solid in the middle of the Kansas City line through two Super Bowls, posting decent run-blocking marks (69.2 last year, 66.0 in 2019) and even better grades in pass protection (77.7 and 79.2).

Reiter isn’t particularly mobile. But with the Vikings straying from their previous model of undersized, athletic linemen, they may be willing to ignore his struggles at the second level and instead enjoy his solid anchor in pass protection. At minimum, Reiter would be a solid insurance policy for the middle of Kirk Cousins‘ pocket if Bradbury doesn’t start living up to Minnesota’s draft-day expectations.

Nick Easton

Hello, old friend! What could be more Minnesotan than bringing home old friend Easton, who was released by the New Orleans Saints earlier this offseason. Easton wasn’t as good in New Orleans the past two seasons as he was the previous two with the Vikings, but he has the flexibility to play either at the guard position or center. Plus, he has experience with the Purple — albeit an offensive coordinator or three ago.

Easton would be a Mason Cole-like alternative to the Vikings having to plug either Dozier or Samia back into the lineup or if Bradbury continues to underachieve.

Dennis Kelly

Kelly is another player who doesn’t fit the model of what the Vikings have looked for in offensive linemen in the past, but since they’ve demonstrated a willingness to think outside that box this season, so will we. He spent the past five seasons with the Tennessee Titans, seeing the most action of his career last year starting at right tackle.

Given that he played in Tennessee’s system and the team that’s shown the most interest in him this offseason has been the Baltimore Ravens, you get the feeling he’s more of a power/gap scheme fit. That said, Kelly is probably the most cost-effective tackle remaining on the market. Given the team’s investment in Darrisaw and likely financial commitment to O’Neal, it wouldn’t make sense to throw big money at someone like Mitchell Schwartz or Charles Leno.

Kelly has starter experience and can play either side, but he would have to come at a substantial discount for Minnesota to add him to the roster when they likely believe Hill already fills that role.

In a perfect world — okay, in my perfect world, given the hand the Vikings have dealt themselves — the Vikings will open the 2021 campaign with Darrisaw and O’Neill at the tackles, backed by Hill and Udoh; Cleveland, Davis, and Cole battling for guard reps with Kyle Hinton showing enough promise to stick as a developmental guard; and Bradbury finally paying dividends on that first-round investment at center.

That doesn’t leave much room for a free-agent signing. Given the options laid out above, Reiter or Easton might best provide experienced center depth. After some of the recent debacles Vikings fans have witnessed along the offensive line, if center depth is the biggest concern next year, that’s a huge win for this group.

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