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Vikings guarantee $316,000 to undrafted free agents

Over the past two seasons, the Vikings have placed a higher degree of emphasis on undrafted free agents, devoting more guaranteed money to certain players in an effort to land the prospects they believe could eventually develop into key NFL contributors.

Their approach to the rookie free agent class of 2018 saw them continue on that path.

The Vikings devoted $316,000 in guaranteed money to their undrafted free agent class this spring, in the form of $98,000 in signing bonuses and another $218,000 in base salary guarantees. That’s up from 2017, when they gave $85,000 in signing bonuses and $107,500 in base salary guarantees to their UDFAs.

“Last year we had seven undrafted free agents make the team,” coach Mike Zimmer said at the start of the team’s rookie minicamp on May 4. “We had three rookies that started and we had three undrafted players that made the team last year. It’s good to get them out here.”

Texas cornerback Holton Hill, who received a $15,000 signing bonus and $60,000 in base salary guarantees, received more money than any other undrafted free agent since Zimmer became head coach in 2014. Only three UDFAs — Tampa Bay’s Godwin Igwebuike, San Francisco’s Tarvarus McFadden and New Orleans’ Deon Yelder — received more guaranteed money among UDFAs than Hill.

The Vikings gave $50,000 in guaranteed money to Southern Miss wide receiver Korey Robertson, who received the 10th-most guaranteed money of any rookie free agent. Robertson’s total guarantees also surpassed the previous high figure given to a UDFA in the Zimmer era, which had been set by Tashawn Bower ($45,000) last year.

Wisconsin linebacker Garrett Dooley got $41,000 in guaranteed money, receiving a $11,000 signing bonus and $30,000 in base salary guarantees. Five players — Hill, Robertson, Dooley, safety Tray Matthews and defensive tackle Curtis Cothran — got at least $25,000 in total guarantees, while running back Roc Thomas got $23,000 and receiver Jeff Badet got $22,000.

The guaranteed amounts are still relatively minimal by NFL standards, and they certainly don’t ensure a long-term roster spot — Dylan Bradley, who received $40,000 in guaranteed money last year, was cut last week to make room for David Parry. But as the Vikings continue to mine the undrafted free agent market for potential finds, it’s worth noting the degree to which they’re making a financial commitment to the process.

Meet the Vikings draft picks: Tackle Brian O'Neill

Previously: DT Jalyn Holmes, TE Tyler Conklin, K Daniel Carlson, DE Ade Aruna, G Colby Gossett and LB Devante Downs

Tackle Brian O’Neill

Height: 6-7
Weight: 297 pounds
Age: 22
Hometown: Wilmington, Del.
College: Pittsburgh
Drafted: 62nd overall, as the Vikings’ earliest draft addition to the offensive line since Matt Kalil was taken fourth in 2012.
Current jersey: No. 75

What we’ve learned 

First impression
O’Neill, the latest in his family to succeed athletically, was the 12th offensive lineman drafted by the end of the second round. O’Neill said he had heard he could be taken anywhere after the top 15 through the third round. While the Vikings were a possible landing spot, they weren’t atop his radar before the draft. “[Contact] wasn’t as deep as some other teams,” O’Neill said. “I met with them at the Senior Bowl and was able to have contact with them at the combine. I think they were able to get a good representation of who I am.”

In the family
O’Neill followed a lineage of athletic talent. His father was a running back at Dartmouth, mother a swimmer at Northeastern and brother a soccer player at Northwestern. Brian was Delaware’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year, a standout defensive end for his high school and committed to play tight end for Pittsburgh in 2014. After redshirting, he moved to tackle due to an injury on the line. He then made 37 consecutive starts at right and left tackle. “Being able to do your techniques consistently every time — that’s kind of the biggest difference,” O’Neill said. “Because you might be able to get away with some stuff at tight end.

An ‘athletic’ fit
For being 6-foot-7, O’Neill impressed the Vikings with his athleticism during both his time at Pittsburgh and the drills at the combine. He was the fastest O-lineman in Indianapolis (1.7 seconds in the 10-yard split) to pair with agility of the best three-cone drill (7.14) and a top 20-yard shuttle time (4.5). The Vikings need athletic linemen for their zone-blocking schemes, a resonating change from the man blocking under Norv Turner. “Whether that’s kicking out to a blitzing linebacker or blitzing d-back, I try to get there fast,” O’Neill said.

What we’re watching for

Gaining strength
The Vikings brought strength coach Mark Uyeyama to the scouting combine in February to evaluate players’ body types, movement and potential for growth. They figure the latter importantly applies to O’Neill, who enters his fourth year playing the position. His 22 bench reps was 22nd out of 36 O-linemen benching at the combine. He could stand to get up to 300-305 pounds, O’Neill said. “He’s got to get stronger,” director of college scouting Jamaal Stephenson said after the draft. “That’s one of his weaknesses, but we feel like we can get that corrected easily.”

Settling into the position
O’Neill said some teams talked to him about possibly playing guard, but the Vikings are expected to begin him at right tackle. That’s where O’Neill made most of his college starts (24 of 37). It’s also where the Vikings could have a long-term need if Mike Remmers fills the right guard opening. O’Neill said he wants to refine “some little stuff with my feet” as the former tight end settles into playing tackle.
“We said the same thing when we took Danielle Hunter,” general manager Rick Spielman said, “that he had a lot of work to do.”

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