The Vikings' biggest player was a bundle of nerves as free agency approached.
Phil Loadholt was the team's biggest free agent priority, literally and figuratively. At 6-foot-8, 343 pounds, they wanted him back on the offensive line to keep continuity blocking in front of running back Adrian Peterson. But, despite the Vikings and Loadholt wanting him to return, the big man was rattled somewhat by the free agent process.
"It's pretty stressful. For me, the closest thing I can equate it to is draft day. You never know where you're going to end up or what's going to happen," he said one day after signing his four-year, $25 million contract with the Vikings. "It's pretty stressful, but I have my faith in God and talk to my family and things like that and I try to make it as smooth as possible."
Loadholt never did reach the free agent market. He signed shortly before free agency officially started, but a three-day negotiating window with other teams brought reports that the Chicago Bears were among the teams that could make a serious run at his oversized services. Once Loadholt signed with Minnesota, the Bears signed another free agent tackle, Jermon Bushrod.
"The business part of football is very shaky, so it was definitely a tough time for myself and my family," Loadholt said. "You never know what can happen. There were definitely some times I was nervous and things like that, but at the end of the day I'm back here being a Viking and happy.
"I never got to free agency. That three-day window, my agent did most of the talking with all the teams and we never really got specifics of which teams were doing what or whatever. I was nervous. I've been nervous for a while because the business part of football is very stressful. I've been in contract talks for a while, but at the end of the day everything turned out great for me."
The Vikings felt the same way. General manager Rick Spielman called Loadholt the team's "top priority" signing.
"He's not only a physical run blocker – and I think that right side, and what he does for that right side and when Adrian runs to that right side – there's no question about the accomplishments that Adrian has made. A lot of that has to do not only with Phil, but with our whole offensive line," Spielman said. "The goal was to keep that line together and create that continuity as long as we can. We were able to get Matt Kalil in there, did some things with the guards, extended John Sullivan. Now Phil Loadholt will be a part of that for a long time."
Loadholt said continuity is the key for a successful offensive line and the Vikings are keeping together the players that started all 16 games as a group in 2012. Last year was the first NFL season for first-round pick Kalil and the first year starting for right guard Brandon Fusco. Charlie Johnson moved from left tackle, now Kalil's position, to left guard. Center Sullivan and left tackle Loadholt were the only offensive linemen starting in the same spot as 2011.
"We've all got great relationships off the field, as well as on the field, so it's us continuing to learn each other, how we're going to connect up with each other on double teams or whatever it is," Loadholt said. "Communication, all of that, I think is going to be essential to the success of our team. That was also another reason I came back."
His first big free agent contract hasn't left him feeling like he knows it all or has it all down when he gets out on the field.
"There's a few things I'd like to do better in the pass game. I'd like to work on my hands and things like that," he said. "I think playing with better leverage is something that I'm always going to have to improve on as long as I play with my height. In the run game, playing with better leverage. In the pass game, working on my hand placement and just become a true technician. I think the more you play, the more you learn. And the more you learn, the more I can apply to my game and make it useful out there."
Loadholt said he stayed patient as free agency approached, but there was no denying the nerves when the contract talks took longer than he expected. He wanted to remain with the same offensive line, the same offensive line coach and the same head coach and "ultimately everything ended up just right."
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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