The news of the Minnesota Vikings moving Brandon Fusco from right to left guard broke pretty early in the offseason last year. After that, the biggest question mark on the Vikings throughout most of the offseason was who was going to fill in at right guard for him.
The coaching staff tried multiple players at the position, including rookie offensive tackles T.J. Clemmings and Tyrus Thompson, along with offensive tackle Mike Harris, whom they eventually settled on. There was plenty of speculation on how well Harris would transition to playing guard, as he almost had no experience there prior to the season, but he actually turned out to be one of the Vikings’ better linemen throughout the course of the regular season.
With the success he had, it wouldn’t seem as though there would be a need for the Vikings to worry about it, but unfortunately for them he is not yet locked down with the team. They signed him to a two-year deal in 2014, making him a free agent once again. If they don’t re-sign him, they will need to have a backup plan.
The Vikings offensive line was a weakness for them last season, especially in pass protection. If the team looks at free agency to bring in a new right guard, if they cannot re-sign Harris, then they will likely look to bring in an experienced starter with a proven track record. Right tackle seems to be the biggest question mark along the line this early in the offseason, making experience next to the right tackle important.
Here are some options:
Kelechi Osemele – The best available guard in this group of free agents is arguably Kelechi Osemele of the Baltimore Ravens. Not only is he a very talented guard, but he also proved to have valuable versatility last season filling in for Ravens injured left tackle and playing well in the reserve role.
With all the problems the Vikings have been having, and the injury problems they have had with their offensive line the past couple seasons, getting their hands on a player with Osemele’s versatility would be quite the signing.
A couple problems with the Vikings signing Osemele is that he will likely be very expensive since he is just entering into the prime of his career at the age of 27. The other big problem is that the Ravens are likely going to do their best to hold onto him, and players usually prefer to stay with the same team than move elsewhere if the financial offers are similar. The third big thing that puts a damper on this potential signing is that Osemele played on the left side last year and moving from one guard spot to the other is not as easy as it sounds, as Vikings’ fans saw last season with Fusco. However, it might be in the team’s best interest, and Fusco’s, to move back to right guard.
Marshal Yanda – Osemele’s talent and high price tag could end up helping out the Vikings in another way. If the Ravens end up spending a lot of money to tie down their left guard, then they probably won’t do the same with their right guard, Marshal Yanda.
Yanda is a nine-year veteran in the NFL, but he still plays the game at a high level. He has been named to the Pro Bowl the last four seasons and was also picked as a first-team all-pro this season. He is 31 years old, but that is all the more reason why the Ravens likely will try to lock up the younger Osemele first.
If the Vikings bring in an older guard such as Yanda, they won’t have to spend a high draft pick on a guard that they have to plug into the lineup right away. Instead, they could draft someone in a later rounds and have him develop and learn behind Yanda for a couple seasons.
Alex Boone – Another guard that the Vikings could try to target, and could probably get a bit of a deal on is the San Francisco 49ers right guard Alex Boone. He had a bit of a down season in 2015, but that could have been more because of the team he was on than his own individual play. His season was also cut short when the coaching staff placed him on injured reserve at the end of the season with a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL).
On average, it takes an MCL about six weeks to heal so he should be ready to go by organized team activities, but the injury and down year will likely cause him to have to sign a smaller deal than he otherwise would have.
Boone will be 29 years old by the time training camp rolls around and should still have a few more years left in him where he can play at a high level. That should give the Vikings room to offer up a multi-year deal to him, which players usually like.
In the end, though, the most likely course of action the Vikings will take will be to try and re-sign Harris to a multiple-year contract. At the age of 27, he still has plenty of years left to be able to play in the NFL and his play on the field last season should warrant some type of reward.
Harris also provides the team with a lot of versatility as he can play both guard and tackle along the offensive line. Not every player has the ability to do that and it is important for teams to try and hold onto the ones that can, especially if they can do it at a starting-caliber level at several position.