At some point, the injuries have to take their toll. The Minnesota Vikings continue to lose key starters, and yet, continue to win games. Mike Zimmer’s team is 5-0 and heads into the bye week as the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team.
They’ll have an extra week to get healthy, but that won’t stop the Vikings from preparing for the worst. As first reported by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Minnesota will host veteran tackle Jake Long for a workout in the coming days. Long last played for the Atlanta Falcons in 2015, appearing in just 11 snaps for the team.
The report comes on the heels of another injury to the offensive line. On the team’s first offensive series, Brandon Fusco left the game with a concussion and did not return. He was replaced by Zac Kerin at right guard and is currently in the NFL’s concussion protocol. As Chris Tomasson points out, Fusco’s injury makes him the fourth lineman to miss a half game or more since the beginning of 2016.
Before Fusco, it was Andre Smith, and before Smith, it was Alex Boone. And before Boone, it was Matt Kalil. Currently, Boone is the “last man standing,” forcing general manager Rick Spielman’s hand in making a move to bolster depth. With Smith nursing a potentially serious elbow injury, the Vikings are in need of another offensive tackle.
Long is a logical fit, as he played for offensive line coach Tony Sparano in Miami (2008-2011) and proclaimed himself “finally healthy” following a long string of knee injuries. His declaration comes after multiple ACL surgeries in 2013 and 2014, surgeries that jeopardized his playing career.
But Long told ESPN in June that he feels the best he’s felt “in five or six years,” and the fact that he’s willing to play for the veteran minimum is added incentive to kick Long’s tires. There are other names on the market, though, including former Ohio State Buckeye Reid Fragel.
Darren Wolfson added Fragel’s name to the rumor mill this morning while adding that Long is “the headliner.” Fragel is a plus-athlete who played three seasons at Ohio State as a blocking tight end. He converted to right tackle his senior year and started 12 games for the Buckeyes before departing for the NFL in 2013.
The Cincinnati Bengals took Fragel in the seventh round as a developmental prospect, but the 6’8,” 308-pound tackle didn’t make the team’s final 53-man roster. Since then, he’s bounced around the league, signing deals with the Browns, Buccaneers, and Falcons that all ended in cuts.
Spielman has plenty of time to weigh his options. Long and Fragel highlight the top free agent targets, but the team could find added value in a younger, more inexperienced player on the market. That could mean parting ways with a valuable asset — as the team did last season with Gerald Hodges for Nick Easton — but that isn’t Spielman’s standard line of thinking.
At the veteran minimum, Long appears to be the most logical choice for a depth-needy Vikings offensive line. His history with Sparano and the endorsement of Dr. James Andrews make him the clear favorite, but there are other options. Players who garnered little attention before — Jeremiah Sirles, Zac Kerin — are now critical to Minnesota’s success. The same could be said for a few under-the-radar free agents currently on the market.