For weeks, some Vikings fans have been agonizing over the potential loss of pending unrestricted free agent Phil Loadholt, saying the team needs to use its franchise tag on Loadholt if they can't re-sign him before he hits the free-agent market.
The franchise and transition numbers arrived this week, throwing some cold water on those who didn't have a ballpark estimate on the price of franchise poker. In Loadholt's case, the Vikings would need to guarantee him $9.83 million for 2013 if they used the franchise tag.
"I wouldn't do that. That's just my opinion based on film," said NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell, an avid consumer of film. "Here's the problem people have. (Adrian) Peterson ran for 2,097 (yards). Obviously people then assume that the offensive line was great because he ran for 2,097. There were some good players. I thought (Matt) Kalil had a very good rookie season. I thought the most underrated player on that offensive line was (John) Sullivan. I thought he had a very good season for a guy who in the previous couple years we didn't say a lot of positive things about. I thought he improved dramatically this year. But I wouldn't look at that offensive line and go, ‘That's one of the great O-lines in the NFL.'"
Loadholt appeared to show improvement in the run-blocking game, but he was one of the league's most penalized players, with 11 penalties, including three each in Weeks 14 and 17.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman declined to get into discussions about the use of the franchise tag last week at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"I'll keep that all internal. The biggest thing when you're deciding that is where do you value that player, where do you see that player's potential market? And then you take it from there," Spielman said.
The issue with Loadholt isn't that he isn't worth re-signing at all. He was a solid starter for the Vikings. The question is: at what price?
"That again is a function of what he and his agent are asking for and what he is worth. I don't think people are going to go after Phil Loadholt with the Brinks truck," Cosell said. "I think you could replace him. I wouldn't break the bank to sign Loadholt."
If Loadholt is asking for a sum that doesn't fit the Vikings' plan at that position, there are plenty of mid-level options available in free agency and the offensive line is one of the strengths of April's draft.
Cosell said he doesn't rank starting right tackles in the league, but it sounds like Loadholt is somewhere in the middle of the talent level by his assessment.
"It's hard for me with all the tape I watch to study specific guys unless they stand out in either a really positive way or a really negative way, and then I might start watching them more. Certain guys I'll watch, like Kalil because he was a rookie and I wanted to get a feel for how he plays. Loadholt, to me, didn't stand out either way – he didn't stand out like, ‘Wow, this guy stinks' or didn't stand out as a positive, where I went, ‘This guy, he's making blocks all over the place.'"
The franchise tag is usually reserved for standout players. Combined with the financial obligation it would take, it doesn't appear likely the franchise tag is heading Loadholt's way.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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