The 2018 season has officially come and gone. In typical Vikings fashion, the season ended with a loss to a divisional opponent in a Week 17, “must win” scenario at home. Following a miraculous season in which the team went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship game, missing the playoffs and barely cracking .500 (8-7-1) make 2018 one of the most disappointing Vikings seasons in recent memory. One of the key reasons for the team’s struggles this season has been the performance of the offensive line.
The Vikings offense is an interesting case. They have arguably the top receiving duo in the NFL, a dynamic young running back, a highly paid quarterback, and a lower-tier offensive line. The latter has been a problem for this team since Favre’s last year in Minnesota. Since 2010, the line has been made up of castoffs, under-performers, draft failures and a variety of other disappointments.
In this two-part series, I will explore multiple solutions for fixing the Vikings offensive line. In part one, I’ll review our recent history, highlight offensive line coaches, and explore the options available in free agency. Part two will dive into potential trade scenarios and draft options.
Over the last three seasons, we’ve seen how much an offensive line can truly affect an offense. After seeing all five starters start every game during the 2015 playoff season, the Vikings offensive line saw injuries early and often during the 2016 season. Losing three offensive tackles, their longtime center, John Sullivan, and being forced to move TJ Clemmings to left tackle. The team ended the season 8-8 after starting 5-0. The offense was never able to consistently function after all the injuries piled up.
2016 pressure rate: 33.65%
Sacks given up: 38
Jump to 2017, Rick Spielman and company made it a point to address the offensive tackle issues that plagued them a season early by spending big money on tackles, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency. They also traded up for Ohio State center, Pat Elflein in the 3rd round of the draft, and slid veteran, Joe Berger to right guard. The team also decided to part ways with starting left guard, Alex Boone, after training camp to make room for the athletic utility backup, Nick Easton. This revamped offensive line helped by Pat Shurmur’s scheme saw a major jump in overall performance. The unit improved from bottom of the league to middle of the road en route to a 13-3 season and a trip to the NFC Championship game.
2017 pressure rate: 38.57%
Sacks given up: 27
The 2018 offensive line has definitely taken a step back from their 2017 performance but the team was dealt some bad cards heading into this year.
- Joe Berger retired.
- Pat Elflein missed most of the offseason after having shoulder and ankle surgeries.
- Tony Sparano passed away a few days before training camp started.
- Nick Easton was lost for the season during training camp with a neck injury.
2018 pressure rate: 40.90%
Sacks given up: 34 (Through 14 games)
What does the current offensive line look like:
LT Riley Reiff (72.8)
LG Tom Compton (60.6)
C Pat Elflein (46.0)
RG Mike Remmers (58.9)
RT Brian O’Neill (62.8)
*2018 PFF grades after Week 17
With impending free agents, Nick Easton on IR (UFA), backup swing tackle, Rashod Hill set to be a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) and current starting left guard, Tom Compton (UFA). The Vikings have some decisions to make along the offensive line this offseason.
Moving Mike Remmers to right guard has clearly been a failed experiment. With the emergence of rookie Right Tackle, Brian O’Neill, the team can create over $4M in cap space by releasing Remmers this offseason.
Offensive Line Coach
The sudden and tragic passing of Tony Sparano a few days before Training Camp created a challenging situation for the Vikings heading into this season. In the interest of continuity, the Vikings announced that Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko would share responsibility for the offensive line in 2018. The results of this arrangement have been far from ideal and the team has to prioritize finding a top-flight offensive line coach this offseason. As important it is to have talent along the line, having a great coach might be more important for this position group than any other.
I tracked the career resume of every NFL offensive line coach to see who consistently gives their team an edge.
— Justis Mosqueda (Day 15) (@JuMosq) December 11, 2018
Here are some options whose current teams are making head coaching changes or who have expiring contracts:
- Washington Redskins: Bill Callahan
- Cincinnati Bengals: Frank Pollack
- New York Jets: Rick Dennison
- Green Bay Packers: James Campen
And, last but not least, former Minnesota Vikings Head coach and known Offensive line guru, Mike Tice.
So, where do we go from here?
Changes need to be made to fix some issues along the line, especially on the interior. With Reiff’s contract, he’ll likely be back as the teams Left Tackle. Rookie Brian O’Neill playing extremely well, you have both tackles set heading into next season. We know the offseason surgeries Elflein had last winter, missing all of training camp, and the team’s first two games, really hindered his development. He’s also a lock to be back as the starting Center next year.
In this scenario, the team will be looking to find two new guards this offseason. The Vikings will have options in a variety of ways to find two starters. Free agency, trade(s) and the draft. Let’s take a look at a few names in each scenario.
The free agent pool doesn’t have any of the top-tier names that we’ve seen in years past. But, there are a couple of names to consider, if the team is willing to put some cash behind it. Rodger Saffold headlines the group and will likely see the biggest offers on the market. Bringing back Easton on a cheap deal could be the best-case scenario for Left Guard, while adding another lineman early in draft and looking to bring in a veteran Right Guard to replace Mike Remmers.
⁃ Rodger Saffold (Rams)
⁃ Tom Compton (Vikings)
⁃ Nick Easton (Vikings)
⁃ Ramon Foster (Steelers)
⁃ Ja’Wuan James (Dolphins)
⁃ Quinton Spain (Titans)
The Vikings know they need to find at least two new starters heading into the 2019 season. They may have to get creative in making this happen.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I talk through trade possibilities and get you familiar with some draft prospects.
*All stats sourced from Pro Football Focus