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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings countdown to free agency: The guards

By Matthew Coller

Zeitler

With the Super Bowl over, the next big NFL date is March 9, when the new league year begins and free agency opens. The Minnesota Vikings are expected to be active in free agency, so as we make our way toward the start of the signing period, we will go position-by-position, analyzing which free agents the Vikings could/should be interested in. We began with the quarterbacks, then went on to the running backs, then the wide receivers, the left tackles, the right tackles and now the guards…

An immediate need, a deep class

After signing Alex Boone last offseason, the Vikings expected to be set at both guard positions for quite awhile, but Brandon Fusco’s play dropped off significantly, forcing the team to release him this offseason. While filling three holes on the offensive line is a daunting task, the group of guards is much deeper and more talented than the left and right tackles. That not only means the Vikings can get their hands on a quality player in free agency, but they also shouldn’t have to break the bank.

Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati Bengals

Pro Football Focus rank: 7th

At just 26 years old and coming off an excellent season, the ex Wisconsin Badger is a very attractive free agent for many teams. In just the early-to-middle stages of his prime, signing Zeitler to a long-term, big-money deal means both that the guard position would be set for years and that the contract wouldn’t look as lofty as the cap continues to rise. Durability has not been an issue for the former first-round pick as he has started all 16 games the last two years. Even with the likelihood of dedicating money to the tackle position, the Vikings should be one of the teams courting Zeitler.

TJ Lang, Green Bay Packers

Pro Football Focus rank: 8th

Lang

Coming off his first career Pro Bowl selection, Lang will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market. Not only did he play an integral role in protecting Aaron Rodgers, but the Packers had a very productive running team despite having Eddie Lacy miss the majority of the season. Lang has been a pillar of consistency and durability, missing just six games since becoming a starter in 2011 and rating among the top guards by PFF rankings three years straight. His age, 29, makes Lang a little less attractive than Zeitler, but still a massive upgrade.

Larry Warford, Detroit Lions

Pro Football Focus rank: 20th

Warford

Warford was the rare example of a third-round pick linemen who was immediately a starter and impact player. In his rookie year (2013) he was named to Pro Football Focus’s Second Team All-NFL team. Some years have been better than others over his first four seasons, but his 2016 play reflected the potential shown in Year 1. At just 25, the 6-foot-3, 330-pound guard should be looking for a long-term deal, but below the price of Zeitler and Lang.

Ronald Leary, Dallas Cowboys

Pro Football Focus rank: 24th

Leary

As part of one of the greatest offensive lines ever assembled, Leary will be highly sought-after in free agency. Dallas is in cap jail, which will make it difficult for them to re-sign the 27-year-old guard. While he is a magnificent run blocker and would immediately help the Vikings improve their Yards Per Carry, there is one major concern about signing on long term: Leary was undrafted back in 2012 because of a degenerative knee condition that was expected to shorten his career. Thus far it hasn’t been a problem, but it could be an issue going forward.

Patrick Omameh, Jacksonville Jaguars

Pro Football Focus rank: 31st

There is a pretty large drop off from the top four star guards in this free agent class to the rest, but some, like Omameh, could still be serviceable players at a much lower price tag. Problematically for the Vikings, Omameh rated very poorly in run blocking, while scoring high in pass protection. For a team that was dead last in the NFL in rushing last season, it’s hard to see them wanting a player who can’t get a push up front. However, with Pat Shurmur at the helm, the Vikings may focus more on linemen who can keep Sam Bradford safe.

John Jerry, New York Giants

Pro Football Focus rank: 33rd

You won’t find a larger guard on earth than the 6-foot-5, 350-pound Jerry, who has spent the last three years as a regular up front for the Giants. You will, however, find guards with a more reliable history. While he rated decently last seasons, Jerry’s 2014 and 2015 seasons were far less impressive. Part of his solid rating this season may have been because Eli Manning emphasized getting the ball out quickly. When it came to the run game, few struggled more than Jerry.

Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints

Pro Football Focus rank: 36th

At one time, Evans was one of the elite guards in the NFL. And give the 33 year old credit, he’s found a way to still be serviceable into his 30s, which is rare for offensive linemen. However, with aging linemen, once they hit the wall, things tend to go very bad, very quickly. Only should the Vikings consider Evans on a one-year deal and even then there is risk involved considering he ranked 49th in run blocking by PFF metrics.

Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans

Pro Football Focus rank: N/A

A former first-round pick, Warmack has never quite lived up to his draft status and missed the entire 2016 season with a finger injury. You won’t find many guards who were more hyped coming out of college and at 25, he would be a very interesting player to sign if the Vikings were a rebuilding team. At this point, they are probably looking for more of a sure thing, even if the ceiling is lower. However, if the top guards are re-signed or land elsewhere, Warmack could be a top target.

Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 12.27.32 PM

Evan Mathis, Arizona Cardinals

Pro Football Focus rank: N/A

For years, Mathis was a dominant force in the interior of the Eagles offensive line, rating as one of the elite guards in the NFL for four straight seasons. In 2015, Mathis was a significant part of the Denver Broncos’ run-first offense. Last season an injury shortened his season, but the 35 year old still performed well as a run blocker. Signing Mathis would be a high-risk play because of his age and injury.

Other notable starting guards:

Andrew Tiller, San Francisco 49ers

Pro Football Focus rank: 43rd

Ted Larsen, Chicago Bears

Pro Football Focus rank: 44th

Tim Lelito, New Orleans Saints

Pro Football Focus rank: 49th

Chris Chester, Atlanta Falcons

Pro Football Focus rank: 56th

Luke Joeckel, Jacksonville Jaguars

Pro Football Focus rank: N/A

The post Vikings countdown to free agency: The guards appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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