Over the past four seasons the one position along the Minnesota Vikings offensive line that has been held down by one player is left tackle. That is normally a good thing as left tackle is arguably the most important position on the line, the one protecting the quarterback’s blind side and taking on the best pass rushers in the NFL week in and week out.
The Vikings drafted Matt Kalil with the No. 4 overall pick in he 2012 NFL Draft in hopes that he would be able to anchor down the left side of the line for years to come. At first, it seemed great as he was named to the Pro Bowl his rookie season, but that success and recognition for the right reasons was short-lived.
He has suffered multiple of injuries since then and has inconsistent guard play next to him, which has seemed to hinder his development. Still, he has played in every game since the Vikings drafted him and has only missed eight snaps in four years. Teams look for that kind of presence on the football field, one where the player refuses to give up no matter the cause.
The problem with Kalil is that his play has been sporadic since his rookie season. He will have a stretch of good games, but then will seem to have a lapse for a week or two, and it is hard for the team to hold him accountable because there is no one they can replace him with. So whether he is dealing with an injury or just in a slump, he has been marched out on the field to play.
This offseason, the Vikings parted ways with their offensive line coach and signed former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano. Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer has already gone on record saying that Sparano will hold the offensive line more accountable and that should include Kalil.
The team has shown confidence in Carter Bykowski as a backup offensive tackle, but he was placed on injured reserve last season after suffering a pectoral injury. Whether or not they would feel comfortable putting him into the game to replace Kalil has yet to be seen, but if they are not the convinced on Bykowski’s abilty, do not be surprised if they pick up a veteran tackle in free agency in order to help keep Kalil accountable.
The problem is that left tackles usually come with a big price tag and the Vikings are not going to want to bring in someone to compete for a starting job with Kalil. They will want to give him every chance to succeed, especially since this is a contract year for him and they will need to decide after this season if they will choose to move forward with him or look elsewhere for a starting left tackle.
If the team does decide to bring one in it would likely be a more veteran player with starting experience who could push the young tackle.
Jake Long – One player that the team could choose to look at is the Atlanta Falcons’ Jake Long. He is best known for his college career at Michigan and being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft by the Miami Dolphins.
His career never really panned out the way he or the Dolphins expected it to, mainly because of injuries, and has now spent time with them, the St. Louis Rams and the Atlanta Falcons. At the age of 30 he was primarily used as a backup last season with the Falcons. He never started in a game and saw action in just four of them throughout the regular season.
The Falcons signed him to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million last year and it is possible a team could get him for about the same price this offseason. He would not come in to compete with Kalil but he has gone through many things the Vikings tackle is currently going through and could be a good mentor for him. Both of them were high draft picks coming out of college and faced adversity in the pros.
Having a player like Long on the roster could in turn help Kalil and he has the experience to step in if the Vikings needed him to.
Ryan Harris – Another player that the Vikings could look to bring in is Ryan Harris of the Denver Broncos. He is an eight-year veteran of the NFL and a Minnesota native, spending his high school years at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul.
He has been an NFL journeyman throughout his career. It all started in 2007 when he was a third-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos and he would stay in the Mile High city through the 2010 season. In 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles signed him to a one-year deal but he would be released by them after undergoing back surgery later that season and taking an injury settlement. He re-joined the Broncos in 2012 but they later released him and he was claimed off of waivers by the Houston Texans and stayed with them through the 2013 season. The Kansas City Chiefs signed him in 2014, and finally the Broncos signed him for a third time in 2015.
Like Long, Harris is not a player that Kalil would have to feel threatened by, but instead a player that could push him to develop into a better player, and if the team needed him to he has the experience playing left tackle in the NFL to be able to come in and play.
Kalil has suffered a lot of scrutiny throughout his career in Minnesota and it has been hard for him to deal with at times. The Vikings organization has never really had a player to plug in for him because of poor play or injury, and that has seemingly played a part in his performance on the field. Every player on the roster needs to be able to be held accountable, and if the Vikings brought in either of these players, or one similar to them, they would be holding Kalil accountable.