Cosell breaks down the OL options

The Vikings will surely be looking at different options along the offensive line when free agency opens in less than 24 hours. What does NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell think of the possibilities? As always, Cosell, a coaches film enthusiast, was honest in his assessment and to the point when it comes to some of the options at center and tackle.

If Vikings fans had their way, the team would just go out and re-sign the top free agents at each position of need and roll into the playoffs 10 months from now.

If only it were that easy. Instead, Vikings head coach Brad Childress and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman have had to bide their time waiting for free agency to begin and watch some of the players at the top of their wish list get re-signed by their original teams before the Vikings ever had a chance to really enter the game.

That was especially true at offensive tackle, where the Panthers' Jordan Gross and the Dolphins' Vernon Carey were re-signed. There are still possibilities out there, but one of the options could come on the restricted free-agent market, which would mean the Vikings would have to give up a high-round draft pick if they signed a player that had been tendered an offer as a restricted free agent.

One of those possibilities is Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon. If Colon is tendered at the lowest level – which would require the Vikings to give up a second-round pick if they signed him to an offer sheet that Pittsburgh declined to match – that might be enticing enough for Minnesota to pursue.

NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell isn't so sure that would be a wise move if Colon is tendered for a second-rounder or more.

"Not in my opinion. It's what you have to give up. See, I think you can get Willie Colon in the fourth round of the draft. I think Willie Colon is a nice player and nothing more. He's more than just a guy, but I would not give up a second-round pick to get Willie Colon," Cosell said. "I think you can get right tackles in the second round, third round, fourth round on your own without having to give up that. I watched him a lot this year because I watched the Steelers pretty much every week, and I think there are times he played well and I think there are other times he struggled. I think there is an inconsistency to his game. I think he's a solid player on a good team, but I would not give up a second-round pick for him."

The Vikings could have another position of need if they don't re-sign center Matt Birk before the start of free agency at 11 p.m. Central Thursday. Birk has made 123 starts for the Vikings since entering the NFL in 1998, but he isn't expected to re-sign with Minnesota.

That would leave Spielman, Childress & Co. searching the free-agent market. Two names stand out amongst available unrestricted free-agent centers: Jason Brown of the Baltimore Ravens and Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts.

Cosell indicated there is a sizable gap in what each of them offers a team.

"I think if you're signing Saturday, you're signing a stopgap. He's been a terrific player, and I think there's a clear simpatico between Saturday and (quarterback Peyton) Manning and that whole system, and I think you have to take that into account," Cosell said. "Jason Brown is a young, emerging player who I think will get better. If you're looking to sign a free-agent center, I don't think there is a choice there. I think you're looking at Jason Brown. He's probably going to cost more money."

The Vikings have stressed time and again that they generally look for younger unrestricted free agents, in the 26- to 27-year-old range. Brown will turn 26 in May; Saturday will turn 34 in June.

"I think you really have to be careful with Saturday. I think when you look at a free agent, you have to really understand what the player is, how he was used, because every situation is different," Cosell said. "We've had this discussion a lot with Matt Cassel and teams that might be interested in trading for him. You have to understand by studying every play of a guy what he is. I have not done that with Saturday to the point where I'm just evaluating him, but I'd be careful with Jeff Saturday.

"As good as he's been, that is a unique offense with a unique quarterback. You're not going to be running that offense in Minnesota. I think you have to be careful, particularly at his age. He's a very, very good player and he was hurt this past year. He's obviously up there in years. He's purely a stopgap and he might be playing at a lower level for you than I think he would be than he played in Indianapolis."

The other issue that could enter into the equation, according to Cosell, is what the Vikings might have planned for offensive lineman Ryan Cook. Cook played center throughout his college career at New Mexico, but the Vikings quickly moved him to right tackle, where he has started 33 games since being selected in the second round of the 2006 draft.

Childress said the team needs to get better at right tackle, and Cook might not be the starter when training camp opens.

"What's Ryan Cook if he's not a right tackle? I don't know the answer to this because I haven't seen him in the NFL at center – can he be moved and be a quality, starting NFL center?" Cosell asked. "They have to make that decision because I'm not there every day in camp, in practice. We know he's not a starting right tackle."

It's all part of the puzzle that has been entrusted to Childress and Spielman, who believe in building teams from the offensive and defensive lines back.

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