An O-Line Conundrum
On Wednesday, the Minnesota Vikings made a surprise cut of left tackle Riley Reiff. Cutting one of their best players on a below-average offensive line came as a shock to many and has raised many questions about what the Vikings’ plan for fixing a problem that has plagued them for nearly a decade is. However, despite the bewilderment, this move opens up plenty of options for the Vikings and perhaps could lead to them finally fixing their biggest Achilles’ heel. One thing, however, is obvious. The Vikings need to make splashes in free agency and the draft if they want a competent line next season.
The natural conclusion here is that the Vikings plan to move Ezra Cleveland to the position he played in college. Moving Brian O’Neill to the left tackle position and sliding Cleveland to right tackle also makes sense. However, a recent tweet from Chris Tomasson suggests that Cleveland should be the successor for Reiff.
It isn’t a clear-cut move, however. We have not seen Cleveland play left tackle in the NFL, but he was a three-year starter at Boise State and a two-time All-Mountain West First Team at left tackle. Therefore, there should be reasonable optimism that after a real offseason this year and a year of NFL experience that he could be a solid player. It is also unreasonable to expect him to reproduce Reiff’s stellar 2020 season, which could be a downside if the other positions on the line do not get shored up. However, there should be optimism at this point that the future of the left tackle position is bright.
The cut of Riley Reiff came with a bonus as well. By switching Cleveland to left tackle, the Vikings got cheaper at that position. Which now gives them ample money to spend on the interior of the offensive line. It is safe to assume that Dru Samia and Dakota Dozier should not be starting next season. As of this moment, the Vikings have around 10 million dollars of cap space. Their cap space can be increased over the next couple of days with restructures to veteran players with higher cap hits. As a result, they should be active in a free agency that is packed with many offensive linemen. With players such as Joe Thuney, Kevin Zeitler, Gabe Jackson, and Richie Incognito all on the market at the guard positions, the Vikings should be in play to get at least one of the top free-agent guards. Spending on free agents is an absolute must if they want any chance to compete this season. The Vikings should know by now exactly how bad poor guard play can derail an offense, with the entire 2020 season tape as prime examples. And with two guard spots to fill up, at least one free agent needs to be signed.
The other option, of course, is to go after a top-tier left tackle. This could be the move if the organization believes that Cleveland is a guard in the NFL. It also seems a bit less likely, as spending a 2nd round pick on a guard in last year’s draft would not have been a great value. However, with the recent release of many top offensive tackles, such as Mitchell Schwarz, going after a stud left tackle is a viable option for the Vikings. However, I still don’t think this would be the best move for the Vikings with their current personnel. It is safe to say that no matter what path the Vikings choose, they must prioritize offensive line in free agency.
The final way for the Vikings to fix their offensive line is through the draft. This year is a deep class for offensive tackles, and so spending a premium pick on one should likely be expected. Not only would this be an insurance policy in case Cleveland does work out better as an NFL Guard, but it would also provide depth at a premium position. However, unlike many other teams, the Vikings have not been great at drafting interior offensive lineman in the late rounds. This fact has been one of the many reasons for the continued struggle of the o-line. As such, it may make sense to spend a premium pick on a guard. This would not be the smartest decision in terms of value, but if it ends up solving this nagging issue for the team, it could eventually be worth it.
In conclusion, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the offensive line. By saving money, the Vikings have the resources to make a splash signing at a position that has plagued them. They also get to test out their young player, who got drafted in the 2nd round last year, and if he works out, both tackle positions would be set for the foreseeable future (assuming an O’Neill extension). Finally, through the draft, they have an opportunity to gain much-needed depth, as well as potential starters, depending on who they draft, and where they do it. The Vikings have gained a chance to solve their greatest weakness, but the question remains: Will they be successful in doing so?