Eleven days after releasing guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, the Vikings have made a move to add depth back into their offensive line. This afternoon the team agreed to a deal with free agent lineman Geoff Schwartz.
Schwartz, originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 draft by Carolina, spent his rookie season on the Panthers' practice squad. He was elevated to the active roster in 2009 and eventually wound up starting all 16 games for Carolina in 2010. But Schwartz spent all of last season on injured reserve after undergoing hip surgery.
He visited with the Vikings on Monday at Winter Park and this evening expressed his jubilation over his new deal on Twitter. Wrote Schwartz: "Excited to be a Minnesota #Viking!!!"
Terms of Schwartz's new deal are not yet known. He does have an ability to play both tackle and guard, versatility the Vikings will no doubt try to take advantage of.
Despite cutting ties with Hutchinson and Herrera, two proven and respected veterans, the Vikings believe they have pieces in place to pick up the slack up front. Charlie Johnson, who started last season at left tackle, is a candidate to move inside to guard, especially if the Vikings use the No. 3 pick in next month's draft on Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil.
General manager Rick Spielman is also encouraged by what he's seen from Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco, both of whom could compete for starting roles on next year's line. But the Vikings may give the 25-year-old Schwartz the inside track to start at guard. He'd also be valuable as a reserve swing lineman, able to play multiple positions if called upon to do so.
After a shaky 2011, the Vikings believe their offensive line play will take a step up this fall, especially if Kalil winds up wearing purple. Center John Sullivan is the best returning lineman in the mix and incumbent right tackle Phil Loadholt was a second-round draft pick three years ago.
It is worth noting that of the four outside free agents the Vikings have signed so far this month, two of them -- Schwartz and tight end John Carlson -- missed all of the 2011 season with injuries.