Coming into the 2021 offseason, the Minnesota Vikings had some patches to be filled throughout the roster. A safety situation here, a defensive lineman there, but none was as mission-critical as fixing the offensive line.
The unit was among the worst in the league last year, especially at pass protection, where PFF had them ranked 28th in the league. I could go on and on about how poor the offensive line was in 2020, but that’s pointless. Anybody who watched Minnesota play last season saw Kirk Cousins running for his life nearly every single drop back.
Needless to say, it’s something Rick Spielman was going to have to address through free agency and the draft. There were even some ways that Minnesota could get creative and turn this line into a formidable unit. That’s the point this team is at. Quite literally being smack-dab average in this category would be a massive win.
But instead of attacking the offensive line, Spielman watched his best lineman in Riley Reiff walk out the front door. On top of that, no move has been made besides re-signing Rashod Hill, who has started in 17 of his 59 career games with the Vikings.
Spielman even restructured Anthony Barr and Adam Thielen‘s contracts this year, giving the team more cap space to work with in free agency. This would be more than enough to go and get a value offensive lineman to bring the unit closer to completion before the NFL Draft. That was the ideal scenario, and as Vikings fans know all too well by now, that’s why it couldn’t happen.
Instead, Spielman went out and spent all of the team’s money on Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson. I’m not going to criticize those individual signings, but — spoiler alert — the two have combined for zero games played on the offensive line throughout their career.
Giving out a $10 million contract to last season’s leader in defensive penalties (Peterson with 10) really just feels like Mike Zimmer is flipping Cousins the double bird. No doubt the defense needs to be better next year, but there were already multiple guys returning from injury/opt-outs.
The offensive line, on the other hand, is looking bleak, to say the least. As it stands now, this is how I project the starting offensive line to shake out: Hill at left tackle, Dru Samia at left guard, Garrett Bradbury at center, Ezra Cleveland at right guard, and Brian O’Neill at right tackle.
Cousins better spend some extra time on the treadmill this offseason because if that’s the line that’s supposed to protect him, he’ll be running more than he ever has before.
The rebuttal to this argument is that the draft is still coming up in a little over a month, and they could draft someone at 14 to plug in right away.
That statement is completely true, but one player isn’t going to fix this disaster of a line. Even in a best-case scenario, Minnesota can scoop up Rashawn Slater, and he can replace Reiff. A rookie coming in and replacing a nine-year veteran is extremely optimistic and would really only bring the offensive line back to what it was last season.
Spielman could hit his draft out of the park, but that doesn’t necessarily equal a vastly improved starting line.
This just feels like another instance of Spielman not supporting Cousins, and in a quarterback-driven league, this is a necessity. We’ve even seen this offseason more than ever that the moment a QB doesn’t feel like he’s being supported by management, he explores his options. That’s not something I’d ever expect Cousins to do, but the point remains that you need to build around them.
Signing a franchise quarterback is like a marriage, and you know what they say: “Happy wife, happy life.”
Tomlinson and Peterson could very well end up being fantastic signings, but assigning the money that way completely baffles me. Is there any reason that instead of balling out on Peterson, Spielman couldn’t have just gone for Mackensie Alexander for around $3 million annually and spent the rest on a veteran guard like Gabe Jackson for $5 million annually?
This seems like a perfectly fair compromise to address concerns on the defensive end while patching up the offensive line. It’s not completely fair of me to make these hypothetical deals until we find out how much everybody gets paid. But I’d be shocked if there wasn’t some avenue available to work on the line.
Everybody knows picking up an offensive lineman isn’t necessarily the sexiest signing, but Vikings fans are looking for some reason to think the line will get better. I’m sorry to say it’s not looking good so far. Spielman better have a plan.