Stop the presses: the Vikings have added an offensive lineman. They've acquired Cardinals center Mason Cole for one of their 2021 sixth-round draft picks, according to multiple reports. The team confirmed the deal, which is pending a physical.
The pick going to Arizona is the compensatory selection (No. 223 overall) the Vikings received for losing Mackensie Alexander in free agency last offseason. They still have their own sixth-round pick, No. 199 overall, but that is currently their final selection of the draft after they were stripped of their seventh-rounder for a salary cap violation.
This isn't much, but it's something. The Vikings have to replace two starters on one of the league's worst offensive lines this offseason, as turnstile guard Dakota Dozier is a free agent and left tackle Riley Reiff was released. If 2020 second-rounder Ezra Cleveland is moved back to his natural position of LT to replace Reiff, the Vikings will have openings at both guard spots.
Cole is primarily a center, having made 30 of his 32 starts at that position, but he also has experience at guard. Garrett Bradbury, despite not living up to his first-round draft status through two seasons, is locked in as the Vikings' starting center in 2021, so one would assume Cole will be competing for a starting job at guard. How likely he is to start in Week 1 depends on what the Vikings do for the remainder of the offseason, particularly when it comes to the draft.
A third-round pick out of Michigan in 2018, Cole stands 6'5", 292 and turns 25 years old this week. Taking a flier on a young player with his draft pedigree feels like a solid move for the Vikings, who need all the options they can get on the offensive line. It just can't be the last or biggest move they make to address that unit. Ideally, Cole takes the Brett Jones role of being a backup IOL who can start a few games if needed.
But then again, maybe he has the upside to earn a bigger role that that.
Cole played multiple O-line positions at Michigan (mostly left tackle, some center) and impressed enough to be taken 97th overall. He started all 16 games at center as a rookie, posting a decent 53.6 PFF grade that was hurt by a 41.7 pass blocking grade (35 pressures and two sacks allowed on 600 pass blocking snaps).
In 2019, Cole was a backup interior lineman for the Cardinals. He made two starts at left guard in Weeks 9 and 10 and actually played pretty well. It's a small sample size, but that could be encouraging for the Vikings.
Cole filled in a handful of other times at left and right guard that season, playing roughly 200 total snaps. Last season, he returned to starting at center for the Cardinals. He was better than he was as a rookie, only allowing 23 pressures, but inconsistency was a big issue. Cole had some major highs and lows across 14 starts.
The Cardinals acquired ex-Raiders center Rodney Hudson this offseason, which made Cole expendable. So the Vikings pounced for the price of a sixth-rounder.
The bottom line is that the Vikings needed offensive linemen, and getting a recent third-rounder with 32 career starts is worth a shot. He has a much better chance to contribute in 2021 than any player drafted with the 223rd pick would have had. We'll have to wait and see what other moves Rick Spielman makes to address the offensive line before fully evaluating this one, but it's a start. Cole might have more upside at guard than he did at center.
Cole has a $2.18 million cap hit in 2021 on the final year of his rookie contract.
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