In the matter of a couple of days, the Minnesota Vikings have turned one of their most pressing potential needs into one of their hottest potential training camp battle spots.
When analysts – and even Mike Zimmer – assessed the greatest needs for the 2016 Vikings, one of the frontrunners was offensive line, to the point that some draft experts had the Vikings selecting an offensive lineman in the first round.
Both veteran starting tackles had big salaries and there were many more questions than answers.
A couple days later, everything has changed.
The Vikings convinced right tackle Phil Loadholt to take a pay cut to remain with the team. The team didn’t move on left tackle Matt Kalil’s fifth-year option prior to Wednesday, thus guaranteeing him $11 million for 2016. In that move alone, the Vikings made sure that their two question marks at offensive tackle were settled … for now anyway.
On Wednesday, the Vikings made two more moves on the O-line, signing former San Francisco 49ers guard Alex Boone and re-signing Mike Harris to a one-year deal.
Veteran tackle Jermon Bushrod is also scheduled to visit this week, according to CBS Sports.
As recently as Monday, there were numerous questions as to how the Vikings would address their offensive line issues, but as the dust settled Wednesday, there are still plenty of questions, but they’re questions of competition and depth, not desperation.
Question 1: Who plays left guard? Both Brandon Fusco and Boone played left guard in 2015. Fusco said last season that he felt more comfortable on the right side, but moved to the left side to benefit the team. The Vikings now have the option of determining who the best fits are for the guard positions rather than having their hand forced for them.
Question 2: Who starts at right tackle? Loadholt has missed the last 22 regular-season games and his ability to stay healthy has come into serious question. After starting all 16 games as a rookie, T.J. Clemmings can stake his case to be the starter – or at least in the competition for the starting job. And Mike Harris should also enter the competition there.
Question 3: Will Kalil earn a long-term contract? Heading into 2015, in many ways, Kalil was playing for his Vikings future. He was one of the lowest graded offensive tackles in 2014 and had surgical procedures done on both knees that clouded his future in terms of coming back 100 percent. Kalil had a technically sound 2015 season, to the point that the organization opted to exercise his fifth-year option, once again making the coming season critical to Kalil’s long-term future with the Vikings.
Question 4: Will this be John Sullivan’s final season? One of the biggest career-enders for offensive linemen is back injuries. Sullivan had surgery early in the preseason and the intention was that he would be back in the lineup by midseason. However, after suffering a setback in his rehab in October, Sully was shelved for the rest of the season. He is aware of his own career mortality, but he has earned the chance to regain his starting spot and, barring another injury, will almost certainly enter training camp at the top line of the depth chart.
Question 5: What becomes of the rest of the Iron Five? The Vikings held the distinction of being the only team in the NFL last season to have the same five offensive linemen start all 16 games. They also held the dubious distinction of having just one starter (Kalil) starting at the same position as the year before. As things stand now, Joe Berger, Clemmings and Mike Harris – all starters last year – could all be reserves, which seems like an NFL anomaly for the number of linemen to start all 16 games one year and still be on the same team the following year and have three of the five who aren’t starters on opening day. With the signing of Boone, that becomes more probable than not.
For more than a year, there have been a load of questions concerning the Vikings offensive line. In 2015 free agency, they did nothing to address the issue. They didn’t address offensive line until Day 3 of the draft.
They were willing to roll with what they had and it was a gamble that faced its harshest test.
A year later, the Vikings may have more questions about what previous starters won’t be starting than ever before.
A few links to keep up on free agency: