Phil Loadholt might be the Vikings' most important free agent on offense.
Depending on the classification of fullback Jerome Felton, Loadholt is the only full-time starter on offense scheduled to be a free agent in March. And with an offensive line that built continuity throughout the season, it would appear Loadholt should be viewed as one of the priority free agents for the Vikings.
"Phil has been a very solid player for us. That's a true warrior-type player," said Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, whose opinion matters most when it comes to re-signing players. "There's no question that he's going to go and lay it on the line for you 16 games, hopefully more, 20 games a year."
Loadholt has been about as dependable as they come in being available. The last time he time was in October 2009, when he missed one game with a leg injury. That was his rookie year. Since then, he's been a starter for all 16 games for the last three consecutive seasons.
Loadholt wasn't interested in discussing his pending free-agent status in too much detail after the regular season had ended.
"The year has gone well for us. We're in the playoffs. The contract stuff, I just try to put in the back of my mind as far as possible and just try to do my part to play good ball," he said.
He did play well for most of the season. While he can struggle occasionally with speed rushers, that's generally the domain of left tackle Matt Kalil. Loadholt is the road-grading right tackle and has played that role well.
The biggest downfall for him in 2012 might have been his penalty count. He led the Vikings with 11 penalties – five false starts, two holdings, two illegal formations, one unnecessary roughness and one taunting.
"There's no reason for false starts besides focus," he said when asked about the penalties that increased late in the season. "There's no blaming on anything like defensive scheme or anything new that happens that can justify it."
Penalties aside, Loadholt has the backing of his teammates, getting the "nasty" compliment from guard Charlie Johnson.
"Phil's a good football player. He's obviously a big guy who can move people off the ball, and he has the long arms to use in pass protection," Johnson said. "I think what he brings to our line is that kind of – we all have it a little bit – but he has a nastiness. If you watch Phil, if you ever see him play, he's constantly around the pile. He's finishing people. He's doing stuff like that that resonates in our room. And he brings that to us. Where it's ‘Wow, I need to go do this.' You want to be a part of that. That's what makes football fun. He brings that to our room."
Running back Adrian Peterson, Loadholt's former teammate at the University of Oklahoma, endorsed the idea that the Vikings should re-sign the big right tackle. Peterson said he would probably talk to the decision-makers about Loadholt.
"He's just been improving each year. I'm going to keep my arms around him this offseason as well, just to make sure he's staying on top of this game and he's working out and he's doing the necessary things to make someone want to bring you back as well. So I'll have my toe in somewhere," Peterson said.
The Vikings have had a history of extending contracts in December of some key players scheduled to be free agents, but they opted not to do that this year. Spielman said there was no change in philosophy, and Loadholt said he had no expectations of that happening.
"I wasn't coming into it expecting anything. I just kind of put it on tape and played it to the best of my ability," he said.
The Vikings have started their offseason evaluations. Those begin by evaluating their own roster and free agents and they then move onto evaluating outside free agents to consider.
"We'll go through the process as comparing him to the right tackles out there," Spielman said. "I know we would love to have that unit together for a while, just because I think the offensive line, if you can get them playing together and how they played this year and to have that same group keep working together, especially at the age a lot of those guys are at, it really helps you solidify yourself up front."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Loadholt might be offense's top free agent
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