The 2018 free agent class has some major names on it. For the most part, however, given the deals they have already signed and the re-signings they have yet to pull the trigger on, the Vikings may ultimately sit out a good chunk of free agency. Still, with the team’s significant need for help on the offensive line, it would be foolhardy to think they make no effort at signing a potential starter this offseason.
Below are a handful of the targets the Vikings could consider. They are sorted into three categories: Big Fish, upper-echelon players whose only real concern is the money; Bargains, mid-to-lower-level players who could find their way into a lineup as reclamation projects; and Injured, potential big name players with some injury questions, major or minor.
The Big Fish
Saffold is the top name among interior line free agents, and thus the most obvious target for the Vikings. He would be an easy guy to plug in to the Minnesota line, requiring no shifting of positions, just throw him next to Pat Elflein and plow forward. Saffold is a Rams-lifer, as they drafted him in 2010 and he has started all along their line ever since. His injury history is a little spotty, and he is now on the other side of 30, so that may not get better. In his nine seasons, he has started at least 15 games only five times. That should be a bit of a concern, given the contract he is likely to garner. That said, his last two years produced an All-Pro selection a Super Bowl appearance.
Speaking of Super Bowl lines, Brown emerged as an unlikely star with New England this year after a somewhat quiet run in San Francisco. He started all 16 games for New England at left tackle, including the entire Super Bowl run. Out of the blue, it seems Brown may end up getting the biggest contract of any lineman this offseason. The worries for the Vikings, aside from the money, are twofold: one, it would require either his or Riley Reiff’s move inside to guard, and two, Brown would be leaving the greatest line coach of all time in Dante Scarnecchia. Is Brown legitimately a newfound star, or did Scarnecchia do his usual lineman-whisperer magic to make him a stud for a season?
Like Brown, James is a still-young, tremendously talented, at times inconsistent tackle who came into his own in 2018. He and Laremy Tunsil did an admirable solidifying a weaker Dolphins line this year, and as a former first-rounder, James is going to garner a lot of interest and likely a lot of cash. Again, since James is a tackle, it would necessitate a switch from someone. And James has almost exclusively played right tackle, so it may necessitate a few switches, should he go to Minnesota.
It was not that long ago that Iupati was widely considered one of the best guards in the game. He has two All-Pro mentions under his belt and served as the intimidating presence in the middle for really good 49ers and Cardinals teams in the early-to-mid-2010s. However, the past few years have seen injuries and slippage in play catch up with him. While he is still an asset as a mover in the run game, Iupati’s pass protection has dipped tremendously and the most recent Cardinals line was the worst in football. Chances are Iupati’s addition would be more of a depth move as opposed to an answer on the interior, especially given the Vikings’ pass blocking woes inside last season.
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Nsekhe would be the Tom Compton-esque signing. If the Vikings sign Nsekhe with the hopes of making him a starter from the get-go, that likely means that they failed to sign one in free agency and/or do not view any rookies they may draft as immediate contributors. That said, Nsekhe is a quality swing guy who can fill in at either guard or tackle in a pinch. He started five games in each of the past two seasons. Nsekhe is a good guy to have, assuming he is not one of the five best on the roster.
Paradis’ injury really should not be cause for much concern. He went on IR after week nine, but he was also one of the best centers in the league prior to injury. Before that, he started all 16 games in each of the previous three seasons. Reports are that he is ahead in his rehab for his fractured fibula, and the Broncos are willing to let him evaluate his market. He may still end up back in Denver, but with the Vikings’ pressing need for interior line help, they would be foolish not to give Paradis a strong look. Granted, it would be a pricey deal, and would probably mean bumping Elflein to guard. But the security there could be worth it.
Veldheer’s age (32 come week one) and 2018 knee injury could end up making him a bargain. He had a solid year in Denver after a few tough years with the Cardinals. As such, the right situation could be all it takes to get some last few strong years out of him. Veldheer would be a more short-term fix, and would probably kick Brian O’Neill over to left tackle. But it seems that change is happening sooner or later anyway, and Veldheer could be a solid veteran presence for a moderate sum.
There are no questions about Williams’ ability or potential; he is a former All-Pro who is still only 26. And yet, he is coming off a significant knee injury that cost him his 2018 season, and he still has just the one full season under his belt as a starter. Before starting 16 games at tackle in 2017, he started just 10 in 2016 and two as a rookie in the Panthers’ Super Bowl season. His most recent vintage was a star, however, so he is going to earn a hefty deal this offseason. That very likely may end up being Carolina. But the Vikings could be in play if, again, they want to expedite O’Neill’s potential move to the blind side.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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