After a regular-season finale win against the Detroit Lions, the Minnesota Vikings finished the year with their fewest wins since Mike Zimmer’s 2014 debut season. Despite going 7-9 and missing the playoffs after a promising 2019 season, the Vikings decided to stick with Zimmer for at least one more season.
The Minnesota Vikings, along with several other franchises, enter free agency with limited cap space and will likely focus their attention towards the 2021 NFL Draft as they continue to rebuild. The Vikings released left tackle Riley Reiff last week prior to paying a $5 million roster bonus to take the team below the cap. Reiff, a prominent starter on a poor offensive line, will likely be one of many cuts after the NFL and NFLPA agreed to reduce the salary cap by over $15 million ahead of the 2021 season.
With the 14th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Vikings are unlikely to make a substantial move at quarterback with Kirk Cousins under contract through the 2022 season. With a cap hit of $76 million over the next two seasons, the Vikings could address cap concerns with a contract restructure similar to Ben Roethlisberger’s but are unlikely to be in a position to negotiate with Cousins, who at 32, is in his prime earnings window.
After losing several long-term starters last season, the Vikings have been in a defensive rebuild. Minnesota once again invested draft capital at cornerback last spring and could be in a position to once again invest in the secondary and defensive line entering the 2021 NFL Draft.
Minnesota Vikings 2021 NFL Draft Need: Offensive Line
The Minnesota Vikings’ decisions to cut players and restructure contracts ahead of the free agency period has led to a busy few days. They made headline moves on defense with the additions of Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson, but have failed to address the most pressing need entering the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Vikings’ decision to cut left tackle Reiff opens an immediate hole on an already weak offensive line. Reiff has held down the left tackle spot after signing with the Vikings in 2017 and has been a lynchpin in an offense that has seen turnover on both the line and at coordinator. 2020 second-round pick, Ezra Cleveland, looked to be the future at tackle after serving as a three-year starter with Boise State but slotted in at right tackle for nine starts last fall.
After a successful rookie season at guard, the Vikings may intend to keep Cleveland on the interior of the line. Cleveland’s flexibility gives the Vikings options depending on the remainder of free agency, and more importantly, who is available at 14th in the 2021 NFL Draft. While replacing Reiff will be an immediate focus, the Vikings will look to strengthen their interior line, both at guard and at center.
Oregon offensive tackle, Penei Sewell is projected to be the blue-chip lineman of the draft and will likely be an early first-round selection. There does not appear to be a clear number two at tackle with Northwestern’s Rashwan Slater and Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, amongst others expected to go anywhere between rounds one through three.
If the Vikings believe Cleveland can take over at left tackle, Spielman will likely look to add interior depth. Former 2018 first-round pick Garrett Bradbury has continued to rank as one of the worst starting centers in the NFL and the Vikings could look to move on from the former NC State center in the third round of the draft.
Bradbury is not the single source of concern on the Vikings line. Minnesota has had inconsistent play and instability at both left and right guard over the past two seasons. The Vikings have rotated through Josh Kline, Pat Elflein, Dakota Dozier, Dru Samia, and Cleveland without substantial success from any guard.
If the Vikings opt-out of drafting a tackle in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, they could instead focus on drafting a day two guard or center with the intention of moving Cleveland to tackle. Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis, Tennesse’s Trey Smith, and Alabama’s Deonte Brown or Landon Dickerson could be on top of Spielman’s board come day two.