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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Looking ahead: Vikings have questions to answer along the offensive line

By Andrew Krammer

The fifth of a position-by-position look at the Vikings with a focus on free agency, the draft and the 2016 season. We’ve also primed the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.

Offensive linemen

2015 playing time

C Joe Berger: 17 games, 100 percent

G Mike Harris: 17 games, 100 percent

G Brandon Fusco: 17 games, 99.9 percent

OT T.J. Clemmings: 17 games, 99.4 percent

OT Matt Kalil: 17 games, 99.3 percent

OT Austin Shepherd: 17 games, 3.1 percent

C/G Zac Kerin: 17 games, 0.1 percent

OT Jeremiah Sirles: DNP

C Nick Easton: DNP

C John Sullivan: Injured reserve

OT Phil Loadholt: Injured reserve

OT Carter Bykowski: Injured reserve

Upcoming free agents

G Mike Harris, unrestricted free agent

OT Carter Bykowski, exclusive rights free agent

Noteworthy number

• $14.08 million — The Vikings had their fourth- and fifth-highest cap hits on injured reserve for the entire season between center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. That $14.08 million is about 10 percent of their salary cap, and will stay in 2015. The injuries, which included a couple back surgeries for Sullivan and a torn Achilles for Loadholt, may impact their futures in Minnesota. Prior to injury, they were two of the team’s best linemen. That’s not a guarantee moving forward, and the Vikings will have to weigh their projected futures with their other options in-house, free agency or the draft.

Current 2016 salary cap, position rank

Kalil: $11.096 million, 3rd (among left tackles)

Loadholt: $7.75 million, 2nd (among right tackles)

Sullivan: $5.83 million, 9th (all centers)

Fusco: $4.05 million, 21st (all guards)

Berger: $1.04 million, 22nd (all centers)

Clemmings: $656, 239

Sirles: $600,000

Shepherd: $542,424

Kerin: $525,000

Easton: $525,000


“I haven’t seen [Loadholt or Sullivan] in six, seven months now, so we’ll just have to see how all of that goes. I have no idea. Right now, I think we need to compete at that position. I think guys need to come in and compete whether it’s Sullivan or Loadholt or Kalil or whoever it is. They need to compete.” — head coach Mike Zimmer, Jan. 12 on state of recovering Sullivan/Loadholt and the O-line.

Potential market

Includes pending free agents at…

Tackle: Russell Okung, Andre Smith, Donald Penn, Mitchell Schwartz, Joe Barksdale, Kelvin Beachum, Cordy Glenn, Byron Bell and Jake Long

Guard: Alex Boone, Mike Harris, Manuel Ramirez, Evan Mathis, Jeff Allen, Richie Incognito, Ted Larsen, Ramon Foster, Johnnie Troutman, Chris Chester, J.R. Sweezy and Brandon Brooks

Center: Stefen Wisniewski, Ben Jones, Ryan Wendell, Gino Gradkowski, Tim Barnes, Josh LeRibeus, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Lyle Sendlein and Tony Bergstrom


The Vikings haven’t found much success drafting offensive linemen lately, but that can’t deter them as this unit needs fixing. They currently have a lot of unproven, young talent after two early-season trades for depth followed three draft picks last spring. Though one selection, Tyrus Thompson, didn’t make it to the regular season. Clemmings was a disappointment in 17 starts, and Shepherd served as a bit player. Rick Spielman could seek a Day 1 starting candidate at guard or tackle with the 23rd-overall pick.

Bottom line

Mike Zimmer didn’t hesitate on the offseason’s top priority to fix the offensive line, letting go veteran position coach Jeff Davidson less than two days after the Vikings’ wild-card loss to Seattle. Tony Sparano leads a group in need of repair, whether that means a complete overhaul or refining the current players. Those decisions have an increased element of unpredictability as proven veterans in Sullivan (back surgery) and Loadholt (Achilles) return from debilitating injuries. General manager Rick Spielman has until March 9 (new league year) to decide whether or not he’ll honor Kalil’s expensive fifth-year option. Kalil is guaranteed over $11 million if he’s on the roster at that point. Should the Vikings want to see a fifth year from Kalil before deciding on his long-term future, a young team and a healthy cap outlook make that possible. They can afford it. Overall, the tackle situation is murky, including Loadholt, who is returning from consecutive season-ending injuries and due a non-guaranteed $5.4 million in the final year of his contract. Clemmings, the replacement at right tackle, showed how far he has yet to go. All while Fusco, a strong starter before last season, needs to get back on track at left guard. They’ve got a few solid in-house options between Joe Berger, who turns 34 in May, and Harris, who could re-sign as a guard and tackle option after a solid season. Sullivan should get every chance to return from consecutive back operations last fall and — if he’s healthy — retain his spot at center. That only highlights uncertainty the Vikings face along the offensive line. They currently have 10 linemen under contract for 2016, and many ways to go.

The post Looking ahead: Vikings have questions to answer along the offensive line appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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