What Does Riley Reiff's Future with the Vikings Look Like?

Will Ragatz

As we count down the days until the Vikings' opener against the Packers on September 13th, InsideTheVikings will be previewing every single player on the roster. The amount of days remaining corresponds with the jersey number of the player being examined on that day. Today is July 5th, and there are 70 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. But because of the Independence Day holiday, we're one day behind. So we'll be looking at No. 71 today. (The Vikings have retired No. 70 to honor Jim Marshall)

Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 70 Days

Player Preview: Riley Reiff (No. 71, Offensive Tackle)

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  • College: Iowa
  • Drafted: 2012 first round (23rd overall, Detroit Lions)
  • NFL experience: Eight years (2020 will be his ninth season)
  • Age: 31 (Turns 32 in December)
  • Size: 6'6", 305
  • 2019 PFF Grade: 69.5

There's no doubt that Riley Reiff's three years as the Vikings' left tackle have been an upgrade over the team's production at that position in the three years prior to his arrival. In 2014 and 2015, former No. 4 overall pick Matt Kalil – who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012 – was clearly a shell of his former self. Kalil got hurt in 2016, forcing the Vikings to start T.J. Clemmings at left tackle for 14 games, which was an absolute disaster.

So it's completely understandable that the Vikings felt compelled to sign Reiff in the 2017 offseason, inking the former Detroit Lion to a five-year, $58.75 million contract. But while Reiff has provided stability and solid play at an important position, he also hasn't exactly lived up to that big-money contract. He's been good, not great, while making more than all but a handful of players on the roster.

That leaves the Vikings at an interesting place when it comes to Reiff and what they should do with him in 2020 and beyond. His cap hit for this season – the fourth year of that five-year deal – is $13.2 million. That trails only Kirk Cousins on the team's books, and is 11th among all tackles in the NFL, ahead of stars like Ronnie Stanley, Terron Armstead, Trent Williams, and Mitchell Schwartz. For context, Reiff's 2019 PFF grade placed him 37th out of 82 qualified tackles.

All offseason long, doing something with Reiff's contract felt like a logical move for a team in need of avenues to create cap space. If they cut or traded Reiff, the Vikings would've saved $8.8 million while eating $4.4 million in dead money. His name constantly came up as a potential cap casualty, and he is still being mentioned in recent trade rumors. The Vikings officially kicked off the process to move on from Reiff by using a second-round pick on Ezra Cleveland – his eventual replacement – in this year's draft.

Despite the endless speculation, Reiff is still on the Vikings' roster and will likely be their starting left tackle for the season opener on September 13th. Given how raw Cleveland is as a prospect and the unique nature of this offseason, the rookie from Boise State almost certainly isn't ready to play at even an average level in 2020. But if Reiff's term at LT isn't over yet, it probably will be soon. In 2021 – the final year of his deal – Reiff's cap hit goes up to $13.95 million and the dead money associated with terminating it goes down to $2.2 million. That means the Vikings could create $11.75 million in cap space next offseason by moving on.

Reiff gets a lot of heat from Vikings fans due to his contract and some ugly moments against elite pass rushers, so it sometimes gets lost that he's had a very successful NFL career. The Parkston, SD native was a star tight end, defensive end, and wrestler in high school. Listed as a DE by recruiting services, he committed to Iowa and moved to the offensive line. As a redshirt junior in 2011, Reiff was named first team All-Big Ten, and he was then selected 23rd overall in the 2012 draft, 19 spots behind Kalil (who hasn't played an NFL snap since 2017).

Reiff mostly played as a reserve blocking tight end for the Lions as a rookie. He spent the next three seasons as their full time left tackle, posting strong PFF grades in 2014 and 2015. Reiff then moved to right tackle in 2016 before signing with the Vikings. He struggled in 2017, but bounced back in 2018 as PFF's 26th-ranked tackle out of 80.

Reiff's PFF grades across seven years as an NFL tackle paint the picture of a player who is firmly above average, but is far from the top-15 star that his contract suggests he is:

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Overall, Reiff's upside is somewhat limited by short arms and a lack of elite athleticism. He didn't post great numbers in any event at the 2012 combine, and his 33.25-inch arms rank in the 14th percentile for offensive tackles. He's been able to overcome that with good technique and intelligence, but his physical limitations still arise in matchups with athletically dominant edge rushers. Because of his lack of burst off the line, Reiff has had significant problems with speedy players like Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, and Za'Darius Smith. For all of the good things he has done in a Vikings uniform, moments like this will probably (somewhat unfairly) be the lasting image of his tenure:

Still, Reiff has plenty of value for the Vikings in 2020 – and potentially beyond. He'll continue to have a high floor at left tackle, and his experience should make him a good mentor to Cleveland.

After this year, there are two realistic approaches the Vikings could take with Reiff, and keeping him at left tackle with a $13.9 million cap hit isn't one of them. Of course, they could simply move on by cutting him, creating nearly $12 million in cap space, and handing the job to Cleveland. 

There's also another option that offers some intrigue: restructuring Reiff's contract and moving him inside to guard. He played some guard as a redshirt freshman at Iowa, and his trouble with speedy edge rushers suggests that he could succeed on the interior. Critics of that idea will bring up the failed Mike Remmers experiment, but Reiff has better hand technique and strength than Remmers did.

2020 will almost certainly be Reiff's last season as the Vikings' left tackle – and Cleveland may actually take over at some point before the year is over – but a restructured contract and a move to guard could extend his time in Minnesota.

Vikings Offensive Tackles Preview: Will Ezra Cleveland Start as a Rookie?

Previous OL player previews:

You can find every single player preview to date – plus other offseason content – in this handy spreadsheet.

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