Over the first few weeks of free agency, the Vikings have poured significant resources into fixing their defense. With five new acquisitions who could potentially start in 2021, plus the return of three key players who missed all of last season, Mike Zimmer's prized unit should be significantly better this year.
The offense is another story.
Yes, Minnesota had a top-ten offense last year by most metrics. But as things stand right now, the Vikings haven't done anything to improve it. In fact, that side of the ball has almost certainly gotten worse thus far, considering a pair of veteran starters in Riley Reiff and Kyle Rudolph were cut to create cap space for defensive signings.
More specifically, the Vikings' offensive line is still a mess. While fans have been encouraged by the new faces on defense, they have a rising level of anxiety and uncertainty when it comes to the team's do-nothing approach to fixing one of the NFL's worst O-lines. Reiff was one of the only reliable pieces up front, and now he's in Cincinnati. Backup-caliber talents Rashod Hill and Dakota Dozier are back, which doesn't move the needle at all, and the only external move Rick Spielman has made was to trade a late sixth-round pick for struggling center Mason Cole.
It's been almost three full weeks of free agency, and the Vikings, realistically, are still two starters away from having even a competent offensive line. At this point, they would presumably be starting Hill and Cole alongside Brian O'Neill, Ezra Cleveland, and Garrett Bradbury. That's worrisome, to say the least.
"I think what we’ve done in free agency so far has allowed us to be able to take the best player available [in the draft], wherever he is," Zimmer said on Wednesday.
I'm not so sure that's true. If the Vikings enter the draft without any further additions to their offensive line, they might be forced to address that need instead of being able to take a legitimate BPA approach.
The good news is that there's still a month left until the draft begins.
"We do have some holes, yeah, that we’ll fill, but we’ve still got time to do that," Zimmer said about the offense. "There’s still a lot of players out there right now and there will be some out there in the draft."
The Vikings have roughly $7.5 million in cap space at the moment, and they can spend all of it because they'll get another $7.9 million in space after June 1st when Rudolph's contract comes off the books. They have the funds to make several more additions to the roster.
Even with the likes of Austin Blythe and Chris Reed coming off the market in recent days, there are still linemen out there who could help the Vikings in 2021. So with that in mind, let's take a look at ten guards who are still available and could be options for Minnesota. I'm only focusing on guards because with O'Neill, Cleveland, Hill, and Oli Udoh, I think the Vikings have solid depth at tackle heading into the draft.
Trai Turner (28 years old)
The biggest name still out there at guard, Turner made the Pro Bowl in five straight seasons from 2015 to 2019. He was traded from the Panthers to the Chargers last offseason and had a disastrous year in Los Angeles, finishing with a PFF grade even lower than Dozier's.
However, it's important to understand the context: Turner missed seven games with a groin injury and wasn't at full strength when he did play. In addition to the groin, he dealt with a couple other injuries throughout the year. If he's healthy and can bounce back in 2021, Turner could be a huge addition to the Vikings' offensive line.
Nick Easton (29)
Easton spent four seasons with the Vikings before heading to New Orleans a couple years ago. Now he's a free agent again and a reunion with his old team could potentially benefit both parties. When healthy, Easton is a solid pass protector.
The Vikings have reportedly made Easton an offer, but they're going to have to sweete it a bit to get him to sign.
Forrest Lamp (27)
Lamp is one of the more intriguing options on the market. He was a second-round pick of the Chargers in 2017 who barely saw the field in his first three seasons due to an unfortunate string of injuries. He stayed healthy last season and showed some upside, even if the overall results weren't great. If he can avoid injury, Lamp's athleticism and technique give him the potential to turn his career around at his next stop.
It's been two weeks since it was reported that Lamp was looking at the Vikings as an option, and he's still a free agent.
Lane Taylor (31)
Taylor spent eight seasons with the Packers after going undrafted in 2013. Now he's looking for his next stop. He hasn't been a starter since 2018, but Taylor has put up consistently solid results throughout his career. He's always been reliable in pass protection, but a lack of athleticism hurts him in run blocking, which might scare away the Vikings.
Stefen Wisniewski (32)
Wisniewski was an excellent center and guard for the first seven years of his career. The question is how much he has left in the tank. Like Taylor, he hasn't played a full season since 2018 and will likely be on his fourth team in four years this season. Still, Wisniewski's track record might be worth taking a chance on.
Kelechi Osemele (32)
Osemele is another guy who fits the same mold as Wisniewski (and both were on the Chiefs last season). He won a Super Bowl with the Ravens as a rookie starter and was one of the best guards in the league from 2014 to 2017, including a first team All-Pro nod with the Raiders in 2016. But he hasn't played a full season since 2018 either, and there might be questions about his ability to fit the scheme in Minnesota. The Vikings don't have a ton of options, so giving Osemele a shot can't hurt.
James Carpenter (32)
A first-round pick all the way back in 2011, Carpenter has had a solid career with the Seahawks, Jets, and Falcons. His best days are behind him, but he could be a low-cost option to compete for the starting job at left guard.
Ben Garland (33)
Garland is a nine-year veteran who has spent his entire career as a backup interior lineman. He has just 15 career starts, all of which have come in the past four seasons. Garland has played center and both guard spots.
Michael Schofield (30)
Schofield was a good pass blocker as the Chargers' starting right guard in 2018 and 2019 and in the same role for the Broncos in 2016. He's also played some tackle, where he hasn't been as good. He was a backup for the Panthers last season who may still have some starting upside.
J.R. Sweezy (32)
With over 100 career starts at guard, Sweezy has plenty of experience. He just hasn't been particularly good over the past four years. With that said, he's better than Dozier and wouldn't be a horrible option on a veteran minimum contract (which is all the Vikings would likely offer to most of the names on this list).
Others: Alex Redmond, Ryan Groy, Brett Jones, Senio Kelemete
If the Vikings keep Cleveland at guard, I imagine it'll be because they drafted a tackle in the first round. But if they do want to add a veteran tackle prior to the draft, there are some very interesting options out there, headlined by Mitchell Schwartz, Eric Fisher, and Alejandro Villanueva. Older vets like Russell Okung and Jason Peters are also free agents, as are decent right tackles like Rick Wagner and Dennis Kelly. I think it's far more likely that the Vikings sign a guard than a tackle, but those names are worth keeping in mind as well.
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