Rick Spielman has a blind spot when it comes to his quarterback’s blindside.
The Vikings general manager has watched spotty offensive line play ruin two of the past three seasons.
To address this glaring need, Spielman has re-signed a linebacker who almost left for the Jets, brought back a defensive lineman who had left to play for the Seahawks, re-signed a kicker and a backup running back and lost a promising guard to New Orleans.
If Spielman had a wart on his toe, he would treat it by taking a cough drop.
The current Vikings roster includes one player who has started an NFL game at guard — Danny Isidora. He has started three — for an offensive line in desperate need of help.
Isidora might develop into a solid player. But the Vikings aren’t trying to slowly develop solid players. They are not playing for 2022. They are trying to win a Super Bowl with an expensive quarterback, a loaded defense and an impressive array of runners and receivers.
The current Vikings offensive line, if they had to play a game tomorrow, would be: Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill at tackle, Isidora and Aviante Collins at guard and Pat Elflein at center. If they sign free agent Josh Kline, they will have a veteran guard to pair with Isidora but will remain under pressure to add quality in the draft.
The expectation entering the NFL free agency period was that the Vikings would lose linebacker Anthony Barr and use their increased salary cap space to sign a quality offensive lineman, or two.
Instead, Barr was welcomed back and the Vikings whiffed on all of the best free agent offensive linemen, meaning they will need wizardly coaching, dramatic improvement from Isidora and/or Collins and a draft that yields at least one offensive line starter.
There are ways this approach could work. Virtually every year Bill Belichick makes under-the-radar moves and succeeds. The nicest thing that can be said about Spielman’s approach thus far, though, is that he is tempting fate.
Last year, pressure visibly affected Kirk Cousins. After spending the first half of the season proving he could hit Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen downfield, he spent the second half ducking rushers and looking for ways to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible.
He displayed this angst most visibly in the must-win season finale. Under pressure, he threw a pass quickly and short while Thielen ran long. Lip-readers saw Cousins telling Thielen, “I don’t have 10 seconds.”
The two argued, prompting Cousins to pantomime the route he needed Thielen to run.
Blame Thielen for running the wrong route? Sure, although Thielen is known for intelligent route-running.
Blame Cousins for throwing a fit? Absolutely, although he’s not the first highly paid quarterback to yell at a teammate, just, perhaps, the first to perform an entire skit on the sideline.
Blame the offensive line for allowing so much pressure that Cousins turned into a jittery nag? This hits closest to home for a franchise that has no choice but to rely on Cousins for the next two seasons.
I learned long ago not to overestimate my, or any analyst’s, ability to judge individual offensive line play. Having Mike Tice yell at you will disabuse you of the notion that you can tell who was at fault when a play went awry.
But it doesn’t require insider expertise to know that the line wasn’t good enough last year, that the line was the difference between going 8-7-1 and making the playoffs and perhaps making the playoffs as a threat to win a game or two.
Having ignored the offensive line in free agency, Slumberin’ Spielman will have to redeem himself in the draft.
He hasn’t chosen an offensive lineman in the first round since 2012, when he took Matt Kalil, who was impressive as a rookie and a lost puppy thereafter.
Spielman’s past three first-round picks: cornerback Mike Hughes, receiver Laquon Treadwell and cornerback Trae Waynes. Hughes is a real talent who plays a position that was not a need for the Vikings; Treadwell is a bust; Waynes is a solid player who is close to being superfluous.
This April, Spielman needs to take an offensive lineman or two who are capable of starting.
Or will his blind spot ruin another Vikings season?
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib firstname.lastname@example.org