Spielman pointed to all the injuries Minnesota had on its offensive line, noting that five offensive tackles made starts for them in 2016. In all, the Vikings had eight different starting lineups on the offensive line, but the first of the linemen to end up on injured reserve was left tackle Matt Kalil, who suffered a hip injury that took him out of action after the second regular-season game.
“I think in Matt’s situation last year, he was having the best, before he got injured, the best offseason and probably the best training camp he was having before his hip started bothering him,” Spielman said. “We were very excited about the projection that Matt was going and it, unfortunately, when he did hurt his hip it did affect his play when he tried to play through it.”
The fact that Kalil suffered the injury while working in the fifth-year option portion of his contract was unfortunate for both him and the Vikings. The Vikings lost out on the opportunity to further evaluate him and it started a downward spiral for the performance of the offensive line. For Kalil, it took away one last opportunity to earn a contract extension before the season ended if his play trended more consistently toward a top level.
Although he had battled injuries in his first four years with the Vikings, he had started all 64 of his regular-season games before 2016.
“There’s no question about the ability part being there, it’s just can he become more consistent. We watched every game in 2015 on him and went back and reassessed those games,” Spielman said. “There’s specific games in there where you say this guy is the real deal and then there are a couple games in there that say he needs to play better. The biggest thing with Matt is getting him to play at a consistent level week in and week out. We felt at the time he was on the path to do that.”
When Spielman says “at the time,” he’s referring to when the Vikings decided to exercise Kalil’s fifth-year option and the ensuing months of work that Kalil put in to improve before the injury hit.
Kalil started his career with a promising rookie season as part of an offensive line that featured the same starting lineup all 16 games and helped pave the way for Adrian Peterson’s 2,097-yard season. Up until last year, he had started every game.
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“We exercise the option and all of a sudden they get injured, I wish I knew that,” Spielman said, referring to Kalil and one of this year’s fifth-year option guys, Sharrif Floyd. “That’s part of the business and something you have to deal with. When you lose players like that, it significantly impacts your team.”
Spielman said Kalil is “doing fine” now after recovering from his hip injury, but didn’t want to divulge the Vikings’ plan with the pending unrestricted free agent.
“We have a plan in place on everything,” Spielman said, “but I also know I have a pretty good history of trying to keep our own guys as well.”