The Vikings are looking to upgrade their offensive line in 2020, a subject on which I could probably just do a “ctrl+c” to copy and paste everything written before the drafts in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 ad infinitum.
It makes quite a bit of sense for the Vikings to pick a lineman — particularly a tackle — with one of their two first round picks Thursday, and that was the subject of Part III of our five-part Access Vikings podcast draft preview that was posted Monday morning.
The No. 22 pick carries a cap hit in 2020 of $2.43 million, for example, and seems like the most logical way for the cap-strapped Vikings to upgrade a perennial deficiency. After years of neglecting the offensive line in the draft, the Vikings and GM Rick Spielman have spent at least a third round pick in each of the last three drafts (center/guard Pat Elflein, third round in 2017; tackle Brian O’Neill, second round in 2018; and center Garrett Bradbury, first round in 2019) in an attempt to shore up the line.
But those picks also underscore the tenuous nature of depending on the draft. Elflein had a promising rookie season but has been hampered by injury and regression; O’Neill looks like he could be a longtime anchor; Bradbury was a mixed bag in 2019 and was pushed around often by elite interior defensive linemen.
Acquiring a veteran would be much closer to a sure thing. And an interesting report emerged recently from a Washington-based podcast.
Veteran writer John Keim, who covers Washington and the NFL for ESPN, said on his podcast two days ago that the Vikings could be a significant suitor in a deal for disgruntled tackle Trent Williams.
“I know Minnesota was definitely one of the teams interested,” Keim said on the show. “I think they’d probably be the team to watch. Whether they get him or not, I don’t know.”
Williams has been unhappy for a while — including a lengthy holdout in 2019 — and per veteran NFL writer Peter King heads a list of players likely to be traded this week during the draft.
Williams protected Kirk Cousins’ blind side quite nicely when they were teammates in Washington. Williams ranked in the top six among tackles in pass blocking efficiency (per Pro Football Focus) in each of Cousins’ three seasons as a starter in Washington from 2015-17.
But Williams turns 32 before the 2020 season starts and is a free agent after the season ends. And he’s looking for a big money extension — hey, maybe ONLY $16 million a year and not $20 million a year, his agent recently said — as part of any trade.
So does this make any sense at all for the Vikings, who have seemingly been committed to getting younger and shedding salary this offseason?
It likely would require dealing draft picks and doing a certain amount of cap gymnastics, whereby Williams’ scheduled hit in 2020 ($14.5 million) was significantly lowered and most of the value was nudged into the back part of the deal where the Vikings have a little more flexibility. The Vikings don’t tend to structure deals quite like that because it causes problems in future seasons.
But maybe Williams would be the exception: a cornerstone tackle to pair with O’Neill who would give Cousins the security to perhaps take another step forward.
Until the Vikings have an offensive line that transcends “hopefully adequate” and becomes at least above-average, it’s hard to imagine them being serious contenders to make a Super Bowl run.
Maybe that cornerstone player could be acquired in the 2020 draft without stressing an already fragile salary cap. But it’s easy to see how an organization that doesn’t have all the time in the world to take steps forward could be tempted by more of a sure thing — money problems and all.