The Minnesota Vikings are hoping their starting offensive line is nearly set after spending more than $13 million in 2017 salary-cap dollars on two offensive tackles in free agency.
The Vikings signed Riley Reiff to play left tackle and Mike Remmers to play right tackle. With Alex Boone set at left guard and either Joe Berger or Nick Easton at center, head coach Mike Zimmer believes he has four of the starting spots covered.
“I think I’ve got four right now, but I think you still have to figure out the right guard position and I think I know the center,” Zimmer said at the NFL owners meetings this week.
But there are a few variable within those four.
The backup in the race to become the starting center could challenge at right guard. General Manager Rick Spielman also said Remmers has the capability to play right guard. The Vikings also worked T.J. Clemmings at guard some in his rookie offseason camps. Jeremiah Sirles could also be a candidate at right guard, according to Zimmer.
“We’re going to look at every option possible,” Zimmer said.
Another strong challenger could come in the draft. While the Vikings now admit that their focus on the tackle position in free agency had to do with a weaker class of tackle prospects in this year’s draft, there are some intriguing options at guard in the middle and late rounds that could compete for the open spot.
But don’t expect the Vikings to be shy about creating competition. They found out last year that even perceived depth on the offensive line can go awry quickly.
“We started five left tackles,” Zimmer said, referencing the revolving door there because of injuries and/or ineffectiveness with Matt Kalil, Jake Long and Clemmings, with Rashod Hill and Sirles getting some time there but not any starts. “Going into season last year we felt really good about where we were on the offensive line. … I’m not going to complain about injuries, but when you lose your starting tackles in the second and third [fourth] weeks of the season, you’re playing 13 weeks of the season with backup guys and then those guys get hurt and you’re playing with street guys. Obviously we’re not the only team that had to deal with that, but five left tackles is a lot.”
The Vikings decided to let Kalil sign with the Carolina Panthers without much resistance and instead pursued Reiff, among others, at left tackle. But Zimmer admitted that Kalil’s hip injury was an issue before it took him out for the season.
“The injury hurt him a lot [in 2016]. Going into the last season, I felt like he was getting better. Matt’s a great kid,” Zimmer told a Panthers reporter this week. “He’s going to work real hard. He’s not going to miss practice, he’s not going to miss games, not until after he had the surgery. I think Matt has a big upside.”
The Vikings ended the season with eight different starting lineup combinations on the offensive line, reinforcing the notion that they may need to keep throwing bodies at the position with an additional pick or two in the draft. But, at this point, they believe they have four of the five starting spots filled.