The Minnesota Vikings decided to move Brandon Fusco from right guard to left guard early on in the 2015 offseason in hopes of helping out left tackle Matt Kalil. It was one spot on the offensive line that they felt confident in because they believed in Fusco as a player and believed he would be able to make that transition without any problems.
That was not the case, unfortunately, as Fusco appeared to struggle throughout the year and just never seemed comfortable on that side of the line. To be fair, it was his first time ever playing on the left side of the line – he played on the right side in high school, center in college and then the right side again early on in his professional career. So it was going to take some time for him to override his muscle memory and get the new movements down.
He was also coming off a 2014 season in which he only played in three games before being placed on the injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. That is a lot of time out of the weight room and it wouldn’t be a far-fetched idea to think that he still wasn’t back to full strength last season.
Fusco’s struggles have left some question marks heading into the 2016 offseason, though. Is the team going to give him another shot at left guard or are they going to move him back to the right side and find a new guard to play next to Kalil?
Mike Harris played well on the right side, replacing Fusco, a year ago but he is a free agent this offseason. The Vikings are likely going to try and re-sign him, but if they can’t then the team likely will need to move Fusco back to his more natural side. That means that there would be a void on the left side of the line at a position that has under-performed the last two seasons.
If the front office decides to bring in a new left guard via free agency, it probably would be one that has a proven track record and can play at a high level. They will want to give Kalil every possible opportunity to succeed because this upcoming season is a contract year for him. Franchise left tackles are not easy to come by, so gaining Kalil’s confidence back and bringing him back to Pro Bowl form is a must for him.
The team likely wouldn’t want to try transitioning a player who has spent his career on the right side of the line over to the left side again, so that would narrow down the list of players, one that have proven they can play at a high level and who have spent their careers playing left guard.
Kelechi Osemele – If the Vikings could get their pick of the free-agent left guards right away, they would likely go with Kelechi Osemele of the Baltimore Ravens. The 26-year-old guard fits right into the age range the Vikings usually like to target when signing free agents and he has proven to be a very talented offensive lineman thus far in his career.
There are a few things about him, though, that could make the Vikings wary of signing him. First off, he has bounced around the offensive line throughout his career already. He started out as the team’s right tackle, was moved to left guard and has even spent time playing left tackle. Usually versatility is a good thing, but if the Vikings were to look for a left guard they would likely want a player who has been focused solely on that position.
The other negative about Osemele is that he has had to deal with some injury problems already in his career. He was forced to have surgery on his back during the 2013 season, causing him to miss nine games. He also missed two games in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Durability is going to be important for the Vikings, who have struggled keeping their offensive linemen healthy the past two seasons.
The truth of the matter, however, is that the Vikings likely will not even get a chance to make a run at Osemele. The Ravens are probably going to offer him a long-term deal and keep him within the organization before other teams even get a shot at him.
Evan Mathis – The other left guard free agent that the Vikings could pursue, if they choose to do so, would be Evan Mathis. There was some speculation that the Vikings could try to get him last season after the Philadelphia Eagles ended up cutting him due to a contract dispute.
He is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and would provide the Vikings with plenty of experience next to Kalil, and he has been able to stay relatively healthy throughout his career. The big mark against Mathis, however, is his age. He will be turning 35 during the 2016 season and he isn’t likely to have many more years left in him. That means that he would have to just be a temporary fill-in while the Vikings try to figure out a long-term solution at the position.
More than likely, though, is that the Vikings are going to end up giving Fusco another shot at the position. That way they know his strength will be back to 100 percent and he will have a whole season under his belt working on the left side of the line to learn from.
The one big thing that this is all hinging on, though, is whether or not the team can re-sign Harris and keep him at right guard. If they are able to do that, then they probably won’t need to bring in any free-agent guards. But if they can’t, they will need to decide where they want to have Fusco play next season, thus determining whether they need to find free agent guards to play on the right or left side. After all, Fusco taught us last season that the side they play on really does make a difference.