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Minnesota Vikings should be active in free agency, draft to cure O-line woes

Rick Spielman spoke with media at the NFL Combine and the flagship station of the Minnesota Vikings and couldn’t avoid questioning about the landscape of the offensive line.

It’s a topic surrounding the 2017 Minnesota Vikings that, in many respects, has been the subject of more discussion than the final landing spot of Adrian Peterson – what do you do to improve an offensive line that was brutal for most of the 2016 season due to an unprecedented number of injuries that ravaged the line?

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman spent a good portion of his morning Wednesday addressing that issue at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

At the podium for a mass press conference, Spielman was asked to assess the offensive line class in this year’s draft. As is his wont to do, Spielman kept his cards close to the vest, but said the depth of talent in this year’s draft could be an unseen benefit as they wait (and wait and wait) for their first pick of the draft to arrive.

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“I would say, without giving any trade secrets away, there is some depth in the draft, especially in the rounds we are picking,” Spielman said. “I think having those extra picks this year, in particular the third and fourth rounds, will be a huge benefit for us in this draft because I think the depth of this draft in general, there’s going to be some pretty good players that get pushed down our way just because of the talent coming out in this draft.”

In addition to his interview session on the hot mic at the Combine, Spielman visited KFAN’s Paul Allen on Media Row and the line of questioning remained the same.

Spielman was asked about how the team tried to handle the unprecedented rash of injuries and trying to find replacement players. Having already shipped out a first-round pick in this year’s draft, once the offensive linemen starting dropping last year like flies in a bug zapper, Spielman and the Vikings had to make the best with what they had.

“You have to be realistic with those expectations,” Spielman said. “You try to do everything you can to fill those needs, but then one drops and another drops and they keep dropping, you have to understand that there’s not a lot of great left tackles on the market or on the street waiting to get signed during the season. That’s a premium position. I don’t think there’s a lot of great quarterbacks out there during the season that you’re going to plug and play and say, “Oh, yeah, this guy’s going to give us a chance to win a Super Bowl.”

Spielman told Allen that you have to look at the long-term health of the franchise despite the short-term pandemic that hit the O-line when it comes to parting with the most prized currency in the NFL these days – the relatively low cost of young talent that is the lifeblood of every franchise.

“You try to do the best you can,” Spielman said. “I think we ended up with five left tackles playing at one point or another. There’s not enough bodies there and enough ability to go out there and get a left tackle if there’s none available. You’re not going to mortgage the future. We already gave a first-round pick for Sam Bradford and a significant contract. You can’t play fantasy football and give up a first-round draft pick in 2018 and (take on) another significant contract. If you start doing that, you’re going affect your ability to keep a competitive team on the field year in and year out.”

What makes the Vikings’ 2016 woes so unique was a heightened example of what makes or breaks any season – positions that appear at one point to be a strength turning into a weakness.

Losing Teddy Bridgewater forced their hand to make the Bradford deal. Having, by Spielman’s admission, 12 different line combinations during the year was beyond the pale.

Considering what they were looking at nine months ago, the calamities between where they started and where they finished was beyond Spielman’s worst nightmare.

“When we attacked the offensive line last year, we said Matt Kalil is going to be our left tackle, Alex Boone’s our left guard, we might have (Joe) Berger and (John) Sullivan battle it out at center, (Brandon) Fusco and Mike Harris battle it out at right guard and Phil Loadholt, Andre Smith and T.J. Clemmings battle it out at right tackle. We said, ‘We’ve got pretty good depth,’” Spielman said. “As things happen, you can’t predict what happens. That continuity up front is so important – that you can keep as many pieces together because they have to work together as one unit.”

A week from tomorrow, the Vikings officially start the process of fixing the problems on the offensive line, where only three of nine players Spielman was counting on last year remain for the time being. The line needs replenishing badly – likely both in free agency and the draft.

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