If the Vikings' interests at the Senior Bowl were any indication, they have been scouting offensive guards and tackles for their offseason pursuit.
The right side of the Vikings' offensive line was a sore spot, as players tried to get used to new teammates next to them and new blocking schemes. While the left side of the line saw more stability with Pro Bowlers Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson, along with left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the right side was often blamed for the inconsistent play that troubled the offense.
The Vikings gave up a fourth-round pick to acquire Philadelphia Eagles guard Artis Hicks, who ended up starting all but two games (those missed were because of injury), but he never seemed to establish himself as a starter. The other options at right guard were Jason Whittle, who started two games, and Anthony Herrera, who had worked his way into a starting role the previous year but often found himself inactive with the new coaching staff.
Whittle is an unrestricted free agent after signing a one-year deal following spending seven of his previous eight years in the league with the New York Giants. Whittle knew right tackle Mike Rosenthal from their days together with the Giants, and the two seemed to form a stopgap tandem on the right side when they started two games together. However, Whittle was replaced with Hicks after starting two games and Rosenthal was supplanted by Ryan Cook after spending three games as a replacement starter for the ineffective Marcus Johnson.
Both Whittle and Herrera, a restricted free agent, say they would like to return to the team – Whittle knowing he is likely a backup and Herrera looking for an opportunity to start once again. Being restricted, the Vikings control the rights to Herrera, but it's uncertain if they will even attempt to re-sign the aggressive guard with a qualifying tender. It likely wouldn't take a big offer for Whittle to return either.
But the Vikings' movements down at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month would seem to indicate they are looking for other options as well. Those could come via the draft or through the available free-agent guards that will hit the open market on March 2 if they aren't re-signed.
Kris Dielman, San Diego Chargers – In two seasons as a starter with the Charges, Dielman has been part of the offensive line that has consistently sprung LaDainian Tomlinson. With 29 starts in the last two years and his time entering the market as an unrestricted free agent, there should be strong interest in him. It's time to warm up the fax machine for the offers and open up a tax-friendly account.
Eric Steinbach, Cincinnati Bengals – Steinbach, along with Dielman, could be one of the most sought-after free-agent linemen on the market. He isn't expected to return to Cincinnati, and already teams are reportedly interested in signing him once the market opens on March 2. He's been a full-time starter since his 2003 rookie season, and this will be his first foray into the open market.
Chris Gray, Seattle Seahawks – Gray has helped Shaun Alexander make his mark on the NFL, but after 14 seasons (10 of them with 10 or more starts), Gray has to be considered in his twilight years. If he doesn't re-sign with the Hawks, he's likely a stopgap player for a team looking for a starter for a year or two with developmental talent in waiting.
Sean Mahan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mahan, a 6-3, 301-pound guard, has worked his way into a starting role with the Bucs in the last three years after spending his rookie season without a start. He's young, emerging and unrestricted. The Bucs are expected to make an attempt to keep him.
Ruben Brown, Chicago Bears – The former Buffalo Bill and current Bear has been a starter since his rookie season, but the problem is that rookie season came in 1995. That's a lot of wear and tear on an offensive lineman, but it's also a lot of experience. He has started every game he has played – and that's 173 for those counting. He has expressed a strong desire to return to the Bears.
Derrick Dockery, Washington Redskins – The 6-6, 335-pounder is another career-long starter, but his advantage is that career is only four years old. He is entering his first opportunity as an unrestricted free agent, and could find a sweet deal with many teams ready to spend.
Cosey Coleman, Cleveland Browns – Coleman has already gone through his first round of unrestricted free agency and moved from Tampa Bay to Cleveland. The seven-year veteran has been a six-year starter, ever since a season of training in his rookie year of 2007.
OTHER FREE-AGENT GUARDS
Cooper Carlisle, Denver Broncos
Rick DeMulling, Detroit Lions
Anthony Herrera, Minnesota Vikings (restricted)
Montrae Holland, New Orleans Saints
Corey Hulsey, Oakland Raiders
Kendyl Jacox, Miami Dolphins
Lewis Kelly, New York Giants
Scott Kooistra. Cincinnati Bengals
Ryan Lilja, Indianapolis Colts (restricted)
Chris Liwienski, Arizona Cardinals
Vincent Manuwai, Jacksonville Jaguars
Scott Peters, Carolina Panthers
Grey Ruegamer, New York Giants
Jake Scott, Indianapolis Colts (restricted)
Jeb Terry, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (restricted)
Jason Whittle, Minnesota Vikings
Floyd Womack, Seattle Seahawks
Future Free Agents: Guards
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