When it comes to improving the offensive line in 2019, the Minnesota Vikings have all sorts of options. When it comes to free agency, which opens on Wednesday, recent history has proven that buyers should beware.
In 2016, the Vikings signed Alex Boone to fix the O-line. One year later he was released. Mike Remmers was signed as a right tackle, but was moved inside to guard last year. Starting left tackle Riley Reiff will reportedly be considered for a move from left tackle to guard.
Around the league the trend is similar with free agent linemen. Houston signed Zach Fulton to a four-year, $28 million contract last offseason only to see him rank 47th of 55 by Pro Football Focus’s grades. Miami’s deal with Josh Sitton, two years for $15 million, went belly up and he was released this offseason. The Giants added Patrick Omameh last year in free agency on a three-year, $15 million deal. They cut him midway through the year.
So how do the Vikings avoid one of these horror stories? By focusing on the players who are the best bets to improve the offensive line significantly in 2019.
Unfortunately several of the best fits are already off the board. Pittsburgh re-signed Ramon Foster and traded Marcus Gilbert to Arizona. The Colts kept Mark Glowinski on a three-year deal. San Francisco re-signed Mike Person and the Jets convinced Jonothan Harrison to stick around. And the Browns traded Kevin Zeitler to the Giants.
Whether they can win a bidding war with only around $5 million in cap space is another story, but assuming the Vikings find a way to create space, here are the last remaining impact free agents.
In order to understand the difference a free agent could make, we have to use the Vikings’ 2018 O-line as a baseline. Here are the remaining free agents who could be an upgrade and how they compare to Vikings players…
The 31-year-old guard will be highly coveted on the free agent market because of his consistency and durability over the past three seasons. He’s ranked somewhere between above average and elite among guards between 2016 and 2018 and has excelled in both the run and pass game. Considering the Rams ran an outside zone scheme, which the Vikings plan on running in 2019, he should be Minnesota’s top target.
Compton was put in an unfair position being forced to start a full season for the first time. Putting a top-notch talent in for a replacement player would make a significant difference on the ground and in protecting Kirk Cousins.
Pass blocking: 72.6
Run blocking: 71.6
Pressures: 29 on 766 passing snaps
Comparison: Tom Compton
Pass blocking: 60.6
Run blocking: 60.2
Pressures: 34 on 560 snaps
Ironically James’ grades and numbers are worse than they appear because of a game against teh Vikings in which he gave up two sacks and graded a 38.8. Aside from that game, the 19th overall pick in 2014 has put together solid stretches over the last three seasons. He graded a strong 77.8 in pass blocking in 2017 but his season was shortened by injury. James has some of the explosive athletic traits (91st percentile in 3-cone drill) that the Vikings aim to find. Signing James would push 2018 second-round pick Brian O’Neill to left tackle and move Riley Reiff inside. The Vikings would be projecting O’Neill to be better than Reiff over the next season and beyond and expecting Reiff to be a left guard upgrade.
Pass blocking: 67.3
Run blocking: 69.1
Pressures: 26 on 491 passing snaps
Comparison: Brian O’Neill
Pass blocking: 65.5
Run blocking: 58.3
Pressures: 31 on 531 passing snaps
Paradis has been in the argument for the NFL’s best center since becoming a starter in 2015. While the team still appears to feel confident in Elflein, who faced extremely difficult circumstances in 2018, Paradis would instantly give the Vikings a better chance against the elite interior defensive linemen of the NFC North a la Snacks Harrison, Akiem Hicks and Kenny Clark. Signing a center would allow the Vikings to move Elflein over to guard, where he would likely be an upgrade.
Pass blocking: 78.6
Run blocking: 77.4
Pressures: five on 353 passing snaps
Comparison: 2018 Pat Elflein
Pass blocking: 44.3
Run blocking: 44.3
Pressures: 33 on 567 passing snaps
Morse is not of the caliber of Paradis, so we have to look at him through a different lens. Would he be better than what we expect a fully-healthy Elflein (in a better system fit) to be? In Morse’s case, it’s clear that he’s a better pass blocker, but might not be an upgrade in run blocking. Over the last two seasons he has graded out below average. In this case, the Vikings would have to decide that protecting Cousins against the interior D-line beasts of the NFC North was their top priority.
Pass blocking: 82.7
Run blocking: 61.3
Pressures: Five on 534 passing snaps
Comparison: 2017 Pat Elflein
Pass blocking: 66.1
Run blocking: 67.6
Pressures: 26 on 600 passing snaps
Health is certainly a concern for the veteran guard, who missed most of the 2018 season and a chunk of 2017, but when he’s healthy, Levitre has been an above average guard for his entire career. He played a key role on the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, who reached the Super Bowl and put together one of the most explosive offenses of the past decade. Levitre is a left guard, so the Vikings would still have to find an upgrade at right guard, but if he’s back to 100 percent, the former Bill/Titan/Falcon could instantly improve the Vikings pass and run blocking.
*Pass blocking: 81.3
*Run blocking: 71.9
*Pressures: 12 on 412 passing snaps
*injured in 2018, stats are from 2017
Comparison: Mike Remmers
Pass blocking: 61.1
Run blocking: 58.2
Pressures: 42 on 705 passing snaps
Update: Trent Brown signed with the Oakland Raiders
Williams is a right tackle, so signing him would also push O’Neill over to right tackle. When healthy, the former Panther is a strong pass protector who was given a difficult task with past offenses that asked Cam Newton to drop back deep in the pocket. He might not be as quick/athletic as the Vikings want for their zone scheme, but his length makes it difficult for edge rushers to get around him.
*Pass blocking: 78.0
Run blocking: 69.3
Pressures: 39 on 651 passing snaps
*Williams was hurt last year, stats from 2017
Comparison: Riley Reiff
Pass blocking: 71.3
Run blocking: 68.3
Pressures: 42 on 541 passing snaps