After placing most of their offseason attention on Adrian Peterson and the little situation he’s got going on with the league, the Minnesota Vikings made their first offseason splash on Friday releasing veteran guard Charlie Johnson.
Johnson, a four year starter for the Vikings, admittedly had his ups and downs with Minnesota but probably saw the writing on the wall after a subpar year highlighted some of the flaws that are accentuated with an aging body. So now, with no starter in place, we look at replacing Charlie Johnson and to no surprise, there are a multitude of ways to do so.
The cheapest and most immediate way to do it is to stay in house. Injuries during the 2015 season highlighted the fact that the Vikings aren’t exactly blessed with a plethora of depth on the offensive line, but there are some options available.
The first name that would be available to slide right in for Johnson would be Joe Berger. Acquired by the Vikings in 2011, Berger is a swing offensive lineman who has played both right and left guard for the Vikings. He’s also their backup center. The catch? Berger, 32 years old, is also a free agent this season and seeing the direct need for the Vikings may be able to add a little value to his deal.
If you want to go the young route, look towards David Yankey, but do so carefully. Yankey, a fifth round selection in 2014, was deactivated most of the season in 2014 and didn’t play a snap for the Vikings. Also known for his versatility up and down the line, Yankey played both tackle and both guard positions in college at Stanford.
Maybe the most popular option would be to hit the open market and go shopping in free agency to bring in a veteran who can play right away. The name you most often hear...Mike Iupati (SF).
Iupati will not come cheap, you’re talking a cap hit of $6-$7 million dollars, but is it worth it? You get more of a guarantee of adequate performance from a veteran, but there is no 100% thing, and it comes with a price. You also won’t be the only one bidding for him so the price may drive up higher if a bidding war breaks out.
Other free agent options include Orlando Franklin (DEN) at the high level and Clint Boling (CIN) and Justin Blalock (ATL) a half tick down and a little more affordable.
Develop through the draft…
This is the most risky option for multiple reasons. Not only is there no guarantee that your rookie player will translate, you are also waiting through the free agency period before acting on the draft leaving your options stripped pretty thin if for some reason you come up short on Draft Day. That said, you can completely strike gold if you do it right.
Nail your pick at the left guard position and you could be sitting on an All Pro offensive guard for a low price for the next 3 seasons after they develop. The likely name that you’ve all been hearing, Brandon Scherff out of Iowa. Standing at 6’5” tall and running a 5.26 second 40 at the combine, Scherff is athletic and strong. Known for his run blocking, he’d fit right into the current Minnesota scheme. In recent mock drafts, Scherff has gone anywhere from as high as #5 to as low as #17.
If it were up to me, I’d cheat a little bit and do a combination of all options. This is the most likely plan for Rick Spielman and the Vikings to some extent. Yankey is a second year player so they will for sure retain him, Berger has swing man value and is your backup center so re-signing him seems like a no brainer as well. There’s your in-house move.
It’s too risky to head into the draft without a veteran that you feel is capable of starting at LG for your team. The closer we get to the new league year, the less likely I think it is that the Vikings will splash and go after Iupati or Franklin. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them pick up a second, even third tier free agent here to lend some stability.
Then, depending on how things fall throughout the draft, I would strive to address a different need in the first round while sitting on La’el Collins (LSU) or Cameron Erving (FSU) early in the second, maybe even trade up for them. Both are currently grading out as second-round prospects and both have long-term starter potential.
Whatever I do here, I don’t want to make it seem like the new LG has some big shoes to fill. Realistically, seeing the output that Johnson was delivering the past two seasons leave either of the two outside options to provide likely improvement along the offensive line. Cutting ties with Johnson was the right move, now go double up on it and make another good decision on his replacement.
What’s your preference on replacing Charlie Johnson at left guard? Let us know in the comment section below...
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