Vikings free-agent focus: Guards, centers

The Vikings could have a starting spot to fill at guard and the free-agent market holds plenty of possibilities. There are numerous guards with a starting experience that should be available, even after the top options.

Tackles are usually most in demand among offensive linemen in free agency, but the Vikings are set at that position. Guards appear to be plentiful on the free-agent market this year, with several established starters scheduled to become free agents next week, and a potential need with the Vikings.

With needs at each level of the defense, the Vikings likely won't be a looking to spend heavily at guard, which could eliminate some of the top names, like former Viking Geoff Schwartz, Travelle Wharton and
Zane Beadles.

VIKINGS VIEW

Perhaps the Vikings' biggest need on offense is at guard, where Brandon Fusco has worked his way into a full-time starting role and Charlie Johnson could be looking at his final days as a Viking.

If Fusco can hold down his starting spot at right guard with a new offensive coaching staff in place – although offensive line coach Jeff Davidson remains – it would mean at least four out of five starting offensive linemen are returning.

In addition to Johnson, veteran backup Joe Berger, who can play guard or center, is also scheduled to be a free agent.

INSIDE OPTIONS

Johnson renegotiated his contract last March in order to stay a part of the Vikings, reducing his cap number to $3.85 million and making it voidable in 2014. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and not likely to approach that number again.

Berger had a base salary of $905,000 but had a veteran exception that meant he counted only $620,000 against the cap. If he's willing and able to take that again, it's possible he could return as a backup swingman at guard and center.

They do have other options on the roster. Jeff Baca, a sixth-round draft pick last year, is an option at guard, but he is the only interior offensive lineman under contract for 2014 besides starters John Sullivan at center and Fusco at guard.

TOP OUTSIDE OPTIONS

Uche Nwaneri: If the Vikings are looking for an experienced starter, Nwaneri is of one those. Released by the Jacksonville Jaguars this week in a move that will save the Jaguars $3.7 million in cap space, Nwaneri has started 92 games in seven years. Since his second season in the NFL in 2008, he hasn't started fewer than 13 games a season, proving a reliable option

Eben Britton: Like Nwaneri, Britton started his career with the Jaguars, starting 30 of 37 games there in his first four years. Last year, Britton started only four of 13 games played for the Chicago Bears, including three of the last seven. He has the versatility to play either guard or tackle.

Oniel Cousins: He started the first four games for Norv Turner's offense in Cleveland last year, but didn't return to the starting lineup after that. Cousins has been in the NFL six years, but his four starts last year marked a career high. In 59 games played, the third-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 has started only nine times.

Mike Pollak: Pollak started 46 of 67 games over his six-year career that spanned three different teams. His last stop was with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he started 5 of 8 games played, so head coach Mike Zimmer should have familiarity with him. Like Berger, he also has the flexibility to play guard or center, potentially offering a starting option at guard for the Vikings if they lose Johnson.

THE FREE AGENTS

Geoff Schwartz
Travelle Wharton
Eben Britton
Zane Beadles
Jon Asamoah
Chad Rinehart
Shelley Smith
Willie Colon
Charlie Johnson
Shawn Lauvao
Wade Smith
Uche Nwaneri
Mike Pollak
John Jerry
Joe Reitz
Chris Williams
Brian Waters
Jeff Linkenbach
Jamon Meredith
Garrett Reynolds
Geoff Hangartner
Kevin Boothe
Danny Watkins
Paul McQuistan
Gabe Carimi
Oniel Cousins
David Diehl
Richie Incognito
Lemuel Jeanpierre
Chris Scott
Garry Williams


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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