Andre Smith leaves Minnesota
Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Minnesota Vikings are in the hunt for a possible starting right tackle, pulling out all the stops to lure free agents to Winter Park. A popular tactic is to take potential Vikings to Manny’s Steakhouse, a move the front office used last night when they wined and dined free agent right tackle Andre Smith at the upscale restaurant.

Despite the Prime beef and today’s scheduled tour of US Bank Stadium, Smith left Minnesota without a deal in place. According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, his looming decision “is between the Vikings and the Cardinals,” and right now, it’s an “even” race between the up-and-coming NFC teams.

A 73-game starter for the Cincinnati Bengals since 2009, Smith would come in immediately and challenge Phil Loadholt at right tackle. Loadholt missed the entire 2015 season with a torn achilles and returns to Minnesota on a one-year deal with no guaranteed money. It’s clear general manager Rick Spielman wants to create competition throughout the roster, and adding Smith would foster fierce training camp battles at the team’s worst position from 2015.

“Regardless of if it’s offensive line or wherever, we’re going to try to create as much [competition] as we can,” he said, per ESPN’s Ben Goessling. While Matt Kalil and newly-signed Alex Boone are the presumed starters on the left side of the line, the starters opposite them are up in the air. Mike Harris is expected to challenge Brandon Fusco at right guard, but the real logjam begins at right tackle, especially if Smith signs with the Vikings later this week.

He’d crowd a group that includes Loadholt and second-year tackle T.J. Clemmings, who started 16 games in place of the injured Loadholt last season. Clemmings was so shaky in 2015 that he may not see the field next year, only adding to the argument that Smith is an ideal fit in Minnesota. At least, that’s what Bengals radio analyst Dave Latham believes.

“Andre has very, very good feet for a big guy,’’ Latham said, per the Pioneer Press. “He’s very agile. Probably his strength is his run blocking. He can roll his hips and generate a lot of power in the running game and finish blocks. His pass protection also is pretty good because of his footwork.”

Smith is set to visit the Cardinals later this week. According to Tomasson, he called head coach Mike Zimmer a “phenomenal guy” and praised team officials for their genuine attitudes during the visit. A positive first impression — and a tender cut of beef — weren’t enough to keep Smith in Minnesota, but it’s possible he returns after his trip to Arizona.

Spielman may not have landed his second big-name free agent (yet), but his objective this offseason is clear; he’s going to do all he can to shore up the offensive line and turn one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses into a deep, competitive unit of strength.

“One of the areas that we wanted to address was the offensive line this year. We were able to do that signing Alex (Boone), getting Mike Harris back along with our current group, getting Phil Loadholt hopefully back and John Sullivan back healthy. I think having all those guys in camp, and if we’re able to sign Andre and still potentially get another guy in the draft here or there, we’re going to be much better up front.”