The Vikings cut both of last year’s competitors for right guard and enter a healthy free agent market with a clean slate at the position.
Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris, both released this month, had started every game for the Vikings at right guard the past two seasons. And, unlike the offense’s prospects to rebuild at tackle, there are a handful of proven options for the Vikings to do so inside.
Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler, Green Bay’s T.J. Lang and Detroit’s Larry Warford are three starting right guards who could hit the market next month. To sign one, the Vikings would likely need to pony up more than the $6.7 million per year used to acquire left guard Alex Boone on a four-year deal last offseason.
Last fall, the Bears signed ex-Packers guard Josh Sitton to a three-year deal worth $7 million per season. And last month the Jets inked 25-year-old guard Brian Winters to a deal worth $7.25 million per. All three of the aforementioned free agents will likely eclipse those deals.
The Vikings’ brain trust will have to weigh the quality of the player against the need to immediately upgrade at right guard while the offense also needs upgrades at both tackle spots — even bigger priorities. Joe Berger, who turns 35 in May and started at both center and guard last season, looks like the top internal option if Nick Easton progresses or if another center is found.
Cheaper options potentially include Saints All-Pro Jahri Evans, who could be coming to the end of a 10-year run in New Orleans, and the Titans’ Chance Warmack, the former 10th-overall pick who turns 26 in September. Teams can re-sign their own players in the next two weeks, but the Vikings won’t get to add any of the options below until free agency officially opens March 9.
Pending free agent guards
Kevin Zeitler (Bengals), age: 26
The former Badgers guard will be one of the top offensive linemen available if he reaches free agency next month. Zeitler didn’t miss a snap for the Bengals last season, ranking as one of Pro Football Focus’ best right guards by allowing just one sack. He’s played 72 of 80 games since he was drafted in the first round and hasn’t been sidelined since 2014. Zeitler will likely command a steep asking price coming off his rookie contract.
T.J. Lang (Packers), age: 29
Lang will turn 30 in September as a durable lineman missing only five starts in his six seasons as a starter for the Packers. Voted to his first Pro Bowl this past season, but hip surgery kept him from playing. Missed three games due to a foot injury. Could be an upgrade for the Vikings in the same vein as the Bears getting a boost from ex-Packer Josh Sitton.
Larry Warford (Lions), age: 25
Warford had a rebound season last year, starting 16 of 17 games for the Lions at right guard while stating his strong case for a lucrative contract in free agency. He’ll turn 26 in June and has proven to be a reliable protector for the pass-happy Lions. Warford has missed just seven starts in four seasons.
Ronald Leary (Cowboys), age: 27
Leary was back in the mix for Dallas after he had been relegated to a backup role following the signing of La’el Collins two years ago. Collins’ toe injury opened the door for Leary to start 12 games, in which he found success among one of the league’s best units. Leary has started 47 games for the Cowboys in the past four seasons. However, he’s been a left guard throughout his NFL career.
Jahri Evans (Saints), age: 33
Evans could once again hit free agency after playing out a one-year deal in New Orleans, where he has started 179 of 186 games over the past 10 seasons. The six-time Pro Bowler started every game last season at right guard and could be a more manageable option for the Vikings.
Also: RFA Andrew Norwell (Panthers), Patrick Omameh (Jaguars), Chance Warmack (Titans)