When the offseason began, the free agent market was pretty thin on the offensive line. And then several interior linemen re-signed. The Colts kept Mark Glowinski, the 49ers convinced Mike Person to stay in the Bay Area and Ramon Foster inked an extension with the Steelers. That leaves the cupboard pretty bare as the Minnesota Vikings search for upgrades along the line.
“There is a guy like Rodger Saffold out there, but he’s probably going to be really expensive,” said Trench Warfare podcast host Brandon Thorn on Purple Daily. “Aside from him, I really think re-signing Nick Easton would be a smart move to bring him back as competition at guard and then look to the draft and look at a guard there because free agency right now is getting thin quickly, especially if you want to talk about a scheme-dependent guy or a guy that fits into that outside zone scheme.”
On Friday the Cleveland Browns traded Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants. Take another option off the list. The Detroit Lions released veteran TJ Lang, who was an elite player at his position once upon a time but has struggled with injuries over the last two years.
That leaves names like Quinton Spain of the Titans and AJ Cann of Jacksonville as the top guards on the market. Judging by the recent past, they are likely to get overpaid. Last year the Texans paid Zach Fulton $7 million per season. Pro Football Focus ranked him 47th of 55 guards in 2018. Arizona gave Justin Pugh a $45 million contract over five years. He played 343 snaps last year and graded well below average.
That doesn’t mean that signing Spain or Cann (or others like Billy Turner or Jonothan Harrison) are guaranteed for disaster, but with very little cap space to work with, the Vikings cannot afford to have a free agent signing go belly up.
The best option may be right under the Vikings’ noses.
Guard Nick Easton is also a free agent. He beat out Alex Boone for the starting left guard position in 2017 and made a strong impression on his head coach and teammates.
“He’s a tough guy that does a great job of finding a way to get his job done,” head coach Mike Zimmer said of Easton during training camp last year. “That’s the best way to say it. He’s very athletic and he doesn’t give (opponents) the same thing (twice).”
“He’s like a gnat,” said nose tackle Linval Joseph. “You can’t get rid of him. He’s always going to be on your backside even if you beat him.”
Easton suffered a bulging disc and missed the entire 2018 season. At the NFL Combine, GM Rick Spielman said he has been medically cleared to play in 2019.
The price tag is likely to be reasonable and Thorn thinks he could be exactly what the Vikings are looking for in the Gary Kubiak/Kevin Stefanski offense.
“I think he’s a really good fit into that scheme,” Thorn said. “What I’ve seen from him…was that he really excels running outside zone concepts and inside zone concepts, working combo blocks with the center, climbing to the second level, taking really good angles so he doesn’t overrun or undershoot guys. He does a good job hitting smaller more athletic guys in space, which is a big thing in outside zone schemes. He plays with really good competitive toughness, he’s a guy that I think plays with the right mentality up front and it really jumps out on film.”
Easton’s quickness off the line is outstanding here. Outside zone and has to reach Jarrett who is at the 1 tech (highly difficult). Does an excellent job getting on top of him, turning his shoulders, and sealing him off. #Skol pic.twitter.com/vC4y3kw4iF
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) December 5, 2017
Last year Easton’s replacement Tom Compton allowed seven sacks and 34 QB pressures. In 2017, Easton did not allow a sack and gave up just 12 pressures.
If the Vikings do bring back the 27-year-old lineman, they would likely still be in the market to add other linemen considering he also battled injury in 2017.