As has been oft-repeated since about Week 2 of the 2016 regular season, the Minnesota Vikings offensive line has been a “next-man-up” situation. We don’t need to beat that horse to understand the epic nature of the revolving door last year on the Vikings offensive line.
A week ago, the Vikings released right guard Brandon Fusco – creating an opening that added more questions than answers in a room currently missing a lot of the guys who occupied it in 2016.
If the organization is going to make a big free-agent move like it did signing Alex Boone last year, everyone on this list is on the table. Reality says otherwise. Here’s who should be discussed behind the closed doors at Winter Park.
Kevin Zeitler – Widely viewed as the plum of the 2017 guard glass, the 27-year-old Cincinnati Bengal is going to sign a giant contract with someone – approaching left tackle money. Given the other needs the Vikings have, they aren’t likely to get in a bidding war for an interior lineman.
T.J. Lang – Taking a player away from the Packers would be a coup and, at 29, Lang has been a full-time starter for six years. He has missed time the last two seasons with injuries, but has missed just five games in six years, which likely will force a team to pay heavy to land him – less than Zeitler, but likely too rich for the Vikings’ cap space.
Larry Warford – Another division rival, the Lions guard has started all 57 games he has played and has earned a long-term deal at age 26. If the Vikings are willing to commit five years for about $30 million, he’s there for the taking.
Ronald Leary – A backup for the Cowboys who took over for injured La’el Collins after being a full-time starter in 2013-14, he is going to get paid. How much is up to debate, but the Vikings would have to get lucky to land him at $6 million a year since he has benefitted from the overall strength of the Dallas O-line.
Luke Joeckel – The former second overall pick in the 2013 draft, he has played in just 39 games and was drafted to be a tackle, not a guard. Clearly he has talent, but his injury history and lack of consistency could make him a low-rent roll of the dice on reaching his potential.
John Jerry – Coming off a two-year, $3.3 million deal with the Giants, the 31-year old wouldn’t break the bank and hasn’t missed a game since 2011, so he could be value pick if the price is right.
Stefen Wisniewski – He’s played with three teams in the last three years – Oakland, Jacksonville and Philadelphia – so he won’t have an issue moving to a new city.
Austin Pasztor – In three years with the Jaguars, he missed 22 of 48 games. In two years with Cleveland, he never missed a game and 2016 was the first season in five he had started all 16 games. His timing couldn’t be better and it will impact his price tag.
Jahri Evans – An 11-year vet with the Saints, at age 34 before the start of the 2017 regular season, he has a lot of tread off the tire. He came back to the Saints last year for just $1 million and started all 16 games. He has a short shelf life, but should be available at a reasonable price on a low-risk dice roll.
Andrew Norwell – A restricted free agent for the Panthers, he might get an offer sheet thrown his way after starting 38 of 39 games, including all 16 last year. Given the Vikings’ lack of a first-round pick, this scenario doesn’t seem likely for the team to give up another draft pick to structure a deal the Panthers can’t refuse.
The Vikings have an opening at guard that needs to be filled and, one way or another, it’s going to happen. How they fill that need may not be decided immediately after the start of free agency. It may be in free agency. It may be in the draft. It likely won’t be determined by mid-March.