Despite contract negotiations that dragged through the summer and into Week 1 of the regular season, right tackle Brian O'Neill said he was convinced Wednesday's extension would get done eventually because of his desire to stay with the Vikings.
"The certain point was earlier this offseason when I said I want to be here no matter what," O'Neill said moments after signing the new contract. "I've known that for a long time, just the people we have in this building and everyone around here, I just want to be a part of it, and I'm happy to be a part of it. There was never really a doubt whether something was going to work or not in my mind. This is where I want to be. I want to be a Viking for my whole career."
O'Neill and the Vikings agreed to a five-year extension that can keep him in Minnesota through the 2026 season, and pays him like he'll be one of the NFL's top right tackles for years to come. He's set to earn up to $92.5 million through this new contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, making O'Neill the second-highest-paid right tackle based on new money. He was entering the final year of his rookie contract.
A new deal for the Vikings' best blocker was a priority for General Manager Rick Spielman, who extended the team's top 2022 free agents, O'Neill and safety Harrison Smith, before Sunday's season opener in Cincinnati. It was especially critical for an offensive line that has turned to O'Neill, who turns 26 next week, as a leader in just his fourth season.
He has started 42 consecutive games since stepping into the lineup in the middle of the 2018 season. O'Neill became the Vikings' most seasoned blocker when Riley Reiff was cut this spring.
O'Neill mentioned Reiff and defensive end Danielle Hunter when asked about players who were instrumental in his development as a second-round pick out of Pittsburgh. Reiff, now the Bengals' right tackle, will play against the Vikings on Sunday.
"For the past couple years, I've been able to lean on Riley a lot," O'Neill said. "Just because everything he brought to the O-line room and then to me as a person. So I'm excited to see him this weekend."
The Vikings offensive line underwent its latest makeover this offseason. Oli Udoh, the third-year former tackle who moved to guard this offseason, will become the seventh different right guard in four seasons to start a regular-season game next to O'Neill. Only two of the previous six right guards, Dakota Dozier and Ezra Cleveland, are still with the team.
O'Neill remains optimistic, noting the transition with Udoh has been smooth as they've constantly communicated while Udoh was O'Neill's backup at right tackle.
"This is the most excited I've been about an offensive line here," O'Neill said. "Hopefully we'll be able to see the results, but we've got to go out and be able to prove it."
The contract is the latest example of an NFL front office valuing a right tackle nearly as much as a left tackle, where top dollar is typically spent on an offensive line. O'Neill is the latest right tackle to sign a lucrative extension this summer, joining the Saints' Ryan Ramczyk, the Colts' Braden Smith and the Panthers' Taylor Moton. All three signed contract extensions worth at least $17 million per season.
It remains to be seen how O'Neill's deal is financially structured. The reported $92.5 million over the added five years is an $18.5 million average, which makes him the second-highest-paid NFL right tackle behind Ramczyk's $19.2 million.
"I'm not really sure in terms of what it does for the position," O'Neill said, "but hopefully what it does for this team and other linemen that come up from the team behind me can see that, hopefully, there's an opportunity for a lot of other guys to have this kind of future."