Improving along the offensive line will be essential for the Minnesota Vikings to increase offensive production in 2017. Minnesota’s protection issues are evident on tape. Sam Bradford was never safe at quarterback and rarely had a clean pocket. Whether it was pressure off the edge or a struggle to get a push in the run game, the Vikings were consistently limited week to week. It will be a major focal point during the offseason not only for the NFL Draft, but free agency.
The NFL’s official start of free agency begins on March 9th. Organizations will be able to legally access the market to bid and draw in potential players. As for the Vikings, they will be forced to tap into the offensive line market and make use of their cap money. Fortunately, there are a few names out there that would make substantial improvements.
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Andrew Whitworth LT, Cincinnati Bengals
Whitworth has long been labeled one of top offensive tackles in the NFL. His consistency throughout his 12 year career has stabilized and anchored Cincinnati’s offensive line. Much of his praise has come recently after earning back to back Pro Bowl appearances in 2015 and 2016. The only issue with Whitworth is his age. He will be 35 years old and will likely only play two or three more years at most. Despite his age, Whitworth’s level of play is leaps and bounds ahead anything Minnesota has experienced in recent years. He will be tough to snatch away from Cincinnati but Mike Zimmer may be a bit more influential having coached there during a segment of Whitworth’s career.
Kevin Zeitler G, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals may be in danger of losing another key offensive lineman to free agency. Kevin Zeitler is set to test the market and measure his value come March 9. The Vikings are significantly needy at every position along the offensive line and Zeitler will be heavily linked there as well. Zeitler is top of the line when it comes to comparison to other guards in the NFL. At 26, he represents a long term option for any organization. What’s the catch? Zeitler will not be cheap. That is one of the reasons many analysts, including ESPN’s Katherine Terrell and Paul Dehner Jr. believe that Zeitler will leave Cincinnati. Spotract measures Zeitler’s value at $11.6 million per year. If Minnesota were to convince him to come to town, they will have to divvy out a large pay check.
Riley Reiff OT, Detroit Lions
Riley Reiff is a not well known name around the league but he’s a bit more familiar around Minnesota. He has played for the division rival Detroit Lions since being drafted in 2012. Reiff is not dominant but his play at right tackle has been solid for the most part. Reiff will not be as expensive as other notable players at his position and he would still upgrade the right side of the line for the Vikings. He is a more realistic option and if he were to make a change of scenery, staying in the division might be more beneficial.
The Vikings will not limit themselves to only one name in free agency. Minnesota has plenty of cap flexibility, meaning they have substantial ability to create more room for spending. Whether it’s Adrian Peterson taking a pay cut or the release of another player, the Vikings will have some difficult decisions to make. Either way, the offensive line is still a priority. Minnesota would be keen to open their checkbook to a few players at that position. While it is a gamble, adding competition and potential improvements is a chance they have to take for 2017.
— Austin Erwin writes for cover32 and covers the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings. He is the unofficial cover32 Teddy Bridgewater ambassador and can be followed on Twitter @austin_erwin. on Facebook and Twitter.