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How Realistic is the Vikings Signing Former Browns Center JC Tretter?

Tretter has been one of the best pass-protecting centers in the league and remains a free agent.

With June right around the corner, there seems to be an unusual amount of talented veteran players still on the NFL free agent market, waiting to find out where they'll play next.

James Bradberry and Jadeveon Clowney recently signed deals, but the list of available players still includes Akiem Hicks, J.C. Tretter, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Joe Haden, Kyle Fuller, Will Fuller, and many others. Several prominent former Vikings are on that list, including Anthony Barr, Trae Waynes, Sheldon Richardson, Kyle Rudolph, Mackensie Alexander, and Riley Reiff.

Among the crop of unsigned veterans out there, one name stands out above the rest as an obvious potential upgrade for the Vikings at a position of need, and that's Tretter.

The Vikings recently declined the fifth-year option for Garrett Bradbury, their starting center who has not lived up to expectations since being drafted in the first round in 2019. That was an obvious decision, as picking up the option would've meant paying him over $13 million in 2023. Bradbury is a great athlete and an asset as a run blocker, but he has been the worst pass blocker among starting NFL centers since entering the league. He has simply been unable to anchor against big defensive tackles, giving up frequent interior pressure that causes problems for Kirk Cousins.

Tretter, meanwhile, has been one of the elite pass protectors at the center position for over five years now. He hasn't had a PFF pass blocking grade under 80 since his debut season in 2014 and he's a good run blocker as well, even if he doesn't move quite as quickly as he did a decade ago. Tretter dealt with some injuries early in his career, but he hasn't missed a game or even a snap due to injury since 2016. The 31-year-old — who happens to be the president of the NFL Player's Association — was released by the Browns in February and still hasn't signed with a new team.

On paper, it makes all kinds of sense for the Vikings to pursue Tretter. He would be a massive upgrade at arguably the biggest weak spot in their entire starting lineup, with a skill set that would fix the specific issue of pass protection at center and turn it from a weakness to a major strength. Over the past two seasons, PFF charged Tretter with 17 pressures and 2 sacks allowed. Bradbury's stats during that time span — on nearly the same number of pass blocking snaps — are 55 pressures and 7 sacks. Toss in the fact that Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was with Tretter in Cleveland for the past two years, and it would seem like a logical fit for both parties.

However, there are several factors at play that make the idea of the Vikings signing Tretter somewhat unlikely.

The first and most glaring one is the financial aspect of things. The Vikings have about $7 million in effective cap space, according to Over the Cap, which isn't much. Tretter isn't going to be cheap, and even if he only ends up signing for $5 or $6 million per year, the Vikings don't have room for that right now. Teams need to carry some space into the season to be able to make moves if players get hurt or other unexpected situations arise. So in order to sign Tretter, the Vikings would have to create additional cap space, which they could do via restructuring more contracts (Dalvin Cook and Eric Kendricks are theoretical possibilities) or trading players like Bradbury or C.J. Ham.

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That's all part of the calculation Adofo-Mensah has to make. Signing Tretter isn't possible without giving up something, whether that's a player currently on the roster, future cap flexibility, or the opportunity cost of not signing someone else. Other potential suitors for Tretter like the Dolphins and Panthers have more cap space available, so they might be more realistic players in his market.

The other issue is that the Vikings might just be content with what they have. If they were going to land Tretter, they'd have to really want him, given that they'd have to move some pieces around and make a sizable financial commitment to acquire his services. So far this offseason, it seems like the Vikings' new leadership is comfortable sticking with Bradbury at center in 2022, even after declining his fifth-year option.

"Garrett Bradbury in the middle is what you look for from a core center from a standpoint of communicating," head coach Kevin O'Connell said at the NFL combine in March. "I see a guy [with] really, really good movement skills. Obviously, a guy that was drafted really high for a reason. I can remember evaluating him through the process. [He] did a lot of really good things in college, and it’s just been a matter of finding the right fit for him and the right system, and what are you asking him to do snap in and snap out that gives him the best possible chance for success? I’m really excited about not only Garrett, but the rest of our guys up front."

O'Connell seems to believe that some slight schematic and technical changes could help Bradbury succeed this year. The Vikings' actions have backed up those words. They brought in a bunch of guards this offseason — free agents Jesse Davis and Chris Reed and second-round pick Ed Ingram — but none of those three have much center experience, if any. The only centers they brought in were career backup Austin Schlottmann on a veteran's minimum deal and Josh Sokol, a UDFA from an FCS school.

Maybe a guard like Reed or Ingram or Ezra Cleveland gets reps at center at some point, but the Vikings deciding to leave the position alone thus far is a curious decision considering just how badly Bradbury has struggled in his three NFL seasons. For a team that appears to view itself as a contender in 2022, simply hoping Bradbury can suddenly improve under a new coaching staff is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Then again, there are still two months until training camp. Perhaps the Vikings are pursuing Tretter behind the scenes and will make a push to sign him in the coming weeks. But with cap space being an issue and O'Connell apparently believing in Bradbury's upside, it feels like Tretter becoming a Viking isn't all that likely.

We'll see.

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