Two names that were tossed around as potential trade or free agent targets for the offensive line-needy Vikings — Orlando Brown Jr. and Alejandro Villanueva — came off the board on Friday afternoon.
Brown, a 25-year-old two-time Pro Bowl tackle for the Ravens, was traded to the Chiefs in a deal involving six draft picks.
The Ravens already have their replacement lined up in Villanueva, a veteran left tackle who spent the last six years with the Steelers and was one of the best tackles still on the free agent market. They will reportedly sign him after the draft so the compensatory pick formula isn't affected.
So, neither Brown nor Villanueva will be a Viking. On the surface, that may seem like a reason for some concern, as two more proven linemen are no longer available. But allow me to explain why Minnesota didn't miss out on much.
Throughout this entire offseason, as speculation about the Vikings trading for Brown ran rampant on social media, I never understood it. He's a very good young player, yes, but he doesn't fit the Vikings' zone blocking scheme at all. Even if you want to criticize them for putting too much focus on athleticism and not enough on pass protection — which is very valid — Brown is so far on the other end of the athletic spectrum from guys like Brian O'Neill and Ezra Cleveland that it never made sense. He has great footwork, technique, and power that has allowed him to shine in the Ravens' scheme, but Brown doesn't have the mobility or quickness to do basic things the Vikings require from their tackles, like make reach blocks and climb to the second level.
Despite this, the Vikings did show some interest in Brown earlier this offseason. They could've made it work. But the bigger reason why I never viewed it as particularly realistic is how much it would've cost to acquire Brown, both in draft capital and future cap dollars. The Vikings would've presumably had to move back from 14 to 27 in the first round, throw in another pick, and then pay Brown a ton of money because he's entering the final year of his rookie deal. It sounds like the Chiefs may franchise tag him next offseason, but then they're only kicking the can down the road on a massive long-term deal.
Villanueva absolutely could've been a good pickup for the Vikings at left tackle, but he's almost 33 years old. Missing out on a veteran like him isn't too devastating for a team that isn't one piece away from being a Super Bowl contender.
These two moves don't change what the Vikings should do, which is use their first-round pick next week to secure a blue chip offensive line prospect on a rookie contract for five years. Whether that's trading up slightly for Rashawn Slater or taking Christian Darrisaw or Alijah Vera-Tucker, landing a stud rookie tackle could give the Vikings similar production to Brown for a fraction of the cost. Remember that they also have Ezra Cleveland on the roster as a candidate to move to tackle. They could also take an edge rusher in the first round and add solid guard candidates like Kendrick Green, Trey Smith, or Ben Cleveland in the third and fourth.
If the Vikings do still want to make a splash with a free agent tackle, particularly if they don't go crazy on the O-line in the draft, I'll give you one name to keep in mind: Eric Fisher. The former No. 1 overall pick and two-time Pro Bowler for the Chiefs is still out there and could be a fantastic fit for the Vikings.
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