Four free-agent guards for Vikings to target

The Vikings have an opening at left guard after the release of Charlie Johnson. Free agency provides some mid-level starting possibilities after the top two that will command top dollar. Who are they?

Addressing the offensive guard position will be a priority for the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. Last year the position suffered from inconsistent play and injuries. Brandon Fusco tore a pectoral muscle toward the beginning of the season.

Vladimir Ducasse was the original player to fill in for Fusco at the right guard position, but Joe Berger eventually replaced him. Berger was able to hold his own while filling in at right guard and finished the season with a 2.7 rating from Pro Football Focus. That rating was the highest among Viking guards.

The inconsistent play never really came from Berger, even though he did struggle from time to time. Instead, it usually came from Charlie Johnson and Ducasse at the left guard position. Johnson finished the year with a -12.1 PFF rating and Ducasse finished with a -14.1 PFF rating.

The Vikings have already released Johnson, and Ducasse is a free agent that hasn’t re-signed by the Vikings. Berger is also a free agent but has a good chance at being re-signed. However, it is not likely that the Vikings will view him as a starting left guard, but instead as a capable backup.

This leaves the starting left guard spot open, and it is possible that the Vikings look to address the position in free agency. This is not a very deep free-agent class when it comes to talented guards, and it was made pretty clear that the Vikings will, as general manager Rick Spielman said, “lay in the weeds” at the start of free agency and wait for the market to settle.

The fact that Spielman tends to shy away from signing players over 30, the list narrows down quite a bit. Denver’s Orlando Franklin and San Francisco’s Mike Iupati will likely draw a larger dollar amount than the Vikings will be willing to pay for a guard. That leaves two young but experienced guards the Vikings could target for a starting spot – Cincinnati’s Clint Boling and Seattle’s James Carpenter.

Head coach Mike Zimmer used to be a defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals, and even though he didn’t work with the offense likely knows Boling’s game pretty well. Boling is 25 years old, which is around the age of free agents the Vikings like to bring in. Last season he received a 5.0 rating from PFF, which is higher than any other guard on the Vikings roster. The final reason why that signing would make sense is that in the 14 regular season games Boling played last season, all of them were at left guard.

Carpenter may not have played with Zimmer in Cincinnati, but he brings something to the table that Boling doesn’t – two Super Bowls with the Seahawks, so he understands what it takes to win and that can be a lot of help to a locker room. Like Boling, Carpenter is also 25 years old and should be able to play for multiple years if the Vikings were to sign him. He also played all of his 2014 regular season games lined up on the left side of the offensive line. The one down side of Carpenter, however, is that he received a -6.6 rating from PFF, but most of his poor play came after he came back from injury he suffered in Week 9.

There is also the possibility that the Vikings waver on their criteria and sign players over the age of 30, whether it is to fill the starting void on the team or just to help provide depth to the offensive line. If the team does decide to look at players over 30, two possible candidates would be Atlanta’s Justin Blalock and Detroit’s Rob Sims.

Both of these two players are 31 years old, which means they still should have a couple good years left to play in the NFL. They both had decent seasons for their teams in 2014. Blalock was the top guard on the Falcons, receiving a 3.8 PFF rating and he played on the left side of the line. Sims also plays on the left side, and although he didn’t play as well as Blalock, he still had a decent season receiving a -0.1 rating at the end of the regular season.

If the Vikings decide to target guards in free agency, look for any of these four players to be in the mix.

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