After a tense 24 hours where it appeared the Vikings might be remaking their offensive line again, they will head into the season with their starting left tackle still on the roster.
Riley Reiff agreed to a restructured contract that will keep him in Minnesota, NFL sources confirmed on Tuesday afternoon, a day after Reiff took time away from the team to consider his options. The terms of the contract have not been announced.
The Vikings, who had just over $200,000 in salary cap space after Sunday’s trade for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, approached Reiff with a reworked contract that would help the team clear cap room. It’s believed the new deal will have some guaranteed money for Reiff, who had none in 2020 while initially scheduled to count $13.2 million against the cap.
The 31-year-old tackle begins his fourth season in Minnesota, after signing a five-year, $58.5 million deal in 2017 to replace Matt Kalil at left tackle. He’s been a team captain who, according to wide receiver Adam Thielen, has helped set a tone in the Vikings’ locker room.
“A key part to this team, to this offense, to that offensive line room,” Thielen said via videoconference Tuesday. “Honestly, I was talking to some of the younger guys the other day about when he first came here, he kind of changed the culture of that offensive line room, and it kind of just trickled down from there. Those guys are so fun to be around. They’re such great leaders and hard workers, and it really started with him when he first got here, so I’ve got so much respect for that guy.”
Until the deal was completed early Tuesday afternoon, the Vikings were preparing for the possibility they’d start the season without Reiff. He was one of several veterans to sit out practice Sunday. Brian O’Neill worked at left tackle then and practiced in Reiff’s normal spot again Monday, when Reiff reportedly told teammates he expected he would be released.
When asked about Reiff possibly leaving two hours before news of the deal leaked to national media, offensive line coach Rick Dennison said: “Well, I think certainly it’s a challenge I think we can meet. We have a lot of talented players. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
He added that he was sure head coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman would “put us in the best possible situation we can.”
In the end, continuity won out for Reiff, whose search for a new team less than a week before the season starts would have been complicated by the fact players have to pass a series of COVID-19 tests before entering a club’s practice facility.
Ngakoue, who was traded from Jacksonville to Minnesota on Sunday and agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal, won’t practice with the team for the first time until Thursday. The Vikings gave players a day off Wednesday.
Keeping Reiff also means the Vikings, who already have one new starting guard (likely Dakota Dozier) and another starter (Pat Elflein) switching sides of the line, won’t have to reshuffle their starting five any further.
They drafted Ezra Cleveland with the 58th overall pick in April, with Spielman saying at the time Reiff would “hold down the fort” at left tackle until the Vikings saw what they had. Cleveland, though, has worked as a guard during training camp.
Dennison said Cleveland’s work at Boise State shows “he’s got great feet, great balance, but he likes smaller spaces.” He didn’t say Cleveland would necessarily stay at guard all year, but admitted playing left tackle could be a tall order for a rookie without a full offseason to get ready.
Dennison noted he had a left tackle out of Boise State, Ryan Clady, step in a rookie in 2008 with the Broncos, but Dennison had all the usual OTAs and minicamps to work with him.
“He was a special athlete with great length,” Dennison said of Clady. “So I think that is a lot.
‘‘We felt very comfortable having Ezra working outside and then he may develop and do different things. I know he’ll develop and he’ll be a great player at some point.”
The Vikings likely will go into the season with Reiff, Dozier, Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein and O’Neill, from left to right, with veteran swing tackle Rashod Hill sticking around. Hill traded first-team snaps at right tackle this week with second-year man Oli Udoh, as the Vikings worked through their options in the event Reiff decided not to accept a restructured deal.
Reiff was not present during the open portion of practice Tuesday, as his deal was finalized about an hour before the Vikings took the field.