The success of the 2017 Minnesota Vikings can largely be attributed to an improved offensive line. After two poor seasons, the team signed veteran tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to bookend the line. The team then drafted center Pat Elflein and saw better production and attitude from the trenches. Despite Remmers missing five games due to a concussion, the line only surrendered 27 sacks. The running game also improved from the league’s worst in 2016 to the seventh best attack in the league.
The improved line wasn’t without flaws, though. Even though the team racked up the seventh most rushing yards, they were tied for 22nd in the league in yards per carry, only going for 3.9 each touch. Quarterback Case Keenum was kept clean much of the season, but his exceptional elusiveness sometimes masked the line’s leakiness.
With the team currently in the hunt for pending free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins and spending money on Reiff and Remmers last off-season, it’s unlikely that the bank will be broken to sign any of the upcoming free agent tackles this off-season. But the team still has plenty of cap space to continue beefing up both guard positions. And the team could already start looking into the future for tackles in the draft. Let’s take a look at a few options the team should be looking at in the coming months.
Beefing Up the Minnesota Vikings Offensive Line
Signing Andrew Norwell
While likely expensive and coveted by many in the league, the Vikings should entertain the idea of bringing in All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell. The soon-to-be fifth-year Ohio State product has been an anchor the past three seasons for the Carolina Panthers. He started 13-of-16 regular season games during their Super Bowl run in 2015 and every game the past two seasons. Standing 6-6 and weighing 316 pounds, Norwell could take over the left guard position manned by Nick Easton in 2017 before suffering a fractured ankle in week 16. Easton’s presence was missed in the playoffs, but his overall skill-set was limited all season long. Norwell would turn a serviceable position into a strength.
Signing Josh Sitton
Although there are other younger options available, former Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears guard Josh Sitton should be heavily considered for a starting guard spot in Minnesota. Even though he turns 32 before the 2018 season begins, he was still rated by Pro Football Focus as the league’s fifth-best guard in 2017. He has the nasty attitude that head coach Mike Zimmer looks for in his linemen and has only missed eight games since becoming a full-time starter in 2009. Fans may have to adjust to the long-time division foe wearing purple at first, but it would be more than a classic “addition-by-subtraction” move.
Signing Justin Pugh / Jack Mewhort
While former New York Giants guard Justin Pugh (28) and former Indianapolis Colts guard Jack Mewhort (27) are younger and attractive options for the Vikings to go after, they both come with injury histories. Pugh missed the final eight games of 2017 with a back injury and has missed 17 in his first five seasons. When healthy, he is a great guard with the flexibility to move to tackle if needed. But as the everyone knows, a great player can’t showcase his talents if he is on the sideline. The same thing goes for Mewhort. The talented guard has missed 17 games the past two seasons, both ending due to the same knee injury. The risk may outweigh the reward with both players, but in a league where nothing is certain, the team could still take a chance on either player.
Drafting Isaiah Wynn
If the Vikings don’t get their guy in free agency (or even if they do), they can look to a deep offensive line draft to address their needs. Tackle Isaiah Wynn from Georgia would be a great pick at 30 for Minnesota. Wynn was a second-team All-American at tackle for the Bulldogs in 2017 but at 6’2″ and 300 pounds, his athleticism and build may be better suited in the NFL at guard. That lines up with what the Vikings wanted in their line in 2017 and into 2018 with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo coming over from the Eagles. This also makes him a “swing” candidate like Remmers with the flexibility to plug in all over the line.
Moving Mike Remmers to Guard and Starting Rashod Hill at Right Tackle
This is less likely to happen but still possible. When Remmers returned from a concussion late in the season, he was moved to right guard as incumbent Joe Berger was slid over to left guard to fill Easton’s vacancy. Backup right tackle Rashod Hill continued starting in Remmers’ place, and for a few weeks, the results were mixed. Then, in the NFC Championship against the Philadelphia Eagles, Hill was exposed by the ferocious Eagles rush. Remmers, however, held his own, and the team may decide to let Hill continue growing at right tackle going into his third season. This is still a worst-case scenario where the team misses on all of their free agent and draft targets. Hill is better in a backup role and Remmers was very good at right tackle before his concussion.
While all eyes will be on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes in the coming weeks, beefing up the offensive line will likely be the next biggest priority in Minnesota. With the return of Dalvin Cook, the team will be looking to have a more explosive ground game that they will hope can take them the next step and into the Super Bowl for the first time in 42 years.