2014 Minnesota Vikings Free Agency: Vikings to Sign OL Vlad Ducasse–UPDATE: Confirmed!

Evidently not satisfied with the state of their offensive line, the Minnesota Vikings are planning to sign former Jets offensive lineman Vlad Ducasse, who chose Minnesota over Cincinnati, per Kristian Dyer of the Metro New York Newspaper (and occasional contributor to Yahoo Sports  and ESPN).

Ducasse has been a disappointment for the New York Jets, and was largely seen as a project with enormous potential. He has the prototypical size (listed at 6’5″ with 34.5″ arms) and weight (323 pounds) of a top-tier offensive lineman. When at UMass, he was extemely quick and light on his feet, which is why he was initially projected to play tackle when the Jets drafted him in the second round. From what it sounds like, the Jets haven’t decided to pursue him in free agency, though it may be telling that some of the best developmental staff in the NFL did pursue him.

**UPDATE: Per Darren Wolfson , there’s no verbal agreement in place yet, and we’ll likely hear news in the coming days about Ducasse’s decision. Given that the Bengals signed Marshall Newhouse as a swing player, it does not seem like the Bengals are at the top of the list. Wolfson also reported there’s another “mystery team” in the running.

**UPDATE: Confirmed, per Adam Caplan!

The biggest issue coming out for Ducasse was his limited exposure to football. An immigrant from Haiti, he didn’t really start playing football until later in his life (though at this point has had about ten years of exposure). His issues in college were all related to experience: technique and play recognition. He did a poor job recognizing stunts and though he had light feet, they weren’t often in put the right spot.

New York hasn’t elected to play him at tackle all that often (and right tackle when they have), but he has played a significant amount of snaps at guard. For all his upside, however, he hasn’t blossomed into a very good NFL player. In fact, he’s been abysmal.

Ducasse has a phenomenal attitude and work ethic, but that hasn’t translated to skill on the field. He was named the starter at left guard for the first time this year, but was quickly replaced by rookie (and fellow small-school swingman) Brian Winters after four disastrous starts (though according to Pro Football Focus, only three of the starts were disastrous and one was good).

Though he played with a mean streak in college, he’s played with some tentativeness in the NFL, though some Jets bloggers chalk this up to hesitancy in recognizing his assignment rather than shying away from physicality. There have been some bursts of brilliance, but he’s been largely disappointing. On a per-snap basis, he ranks 72nd of 81 guards in Pro Football Focus’ rating, and one Jets blogger told me he was the “worst offensive lineman I’ve ever seen.”

There’s reason to believe that offensive line coach Jeff Davidson is one of the best in the business, and therefore able to develop Ducasse, but even if it saves a draft pick by avoiding the typical late-round lineman pick, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Ducasse was new to football. He isn’t anymore and has been bad in all but the simplest of assignments. The fact that there’s a great likelihood that Davidson will be in charge of the running scheme once more means that Ducasse will be expected to back up linemen in one of the most complex systems of the NFL. It may be better to pick a younger lineman with a larger band of uncertainty surrounding his NFL talent than Ducasse (who in fairness is 26), who will have four years of experience and a smaller likelihood of turning into a reliable starter.

I’m not sure he’s shown much progress over his four years in New York (New Jersey), and I’m not sure he has much more progress left to show. He’s a mountainous man who can move quickly (though without a ton of burst), but much more than that is needed to compete at the highest level.

The Vikings have a short history of trying out their biggest offensive linemen at right tackle (Bond, Love, Kropog and Loadholt) instead of guard, and that may be where Ducasse is primarily expected to back up witht he option to kick in, if need be. While this better takes advantage of his physical skill set, I’m not sure it really takes into account the limitations of his technical and mental skill sets.

**UPDATE: Darren Wolfson tells us that Vlad Ducasse has only been discussed as a guard for the Vikings, and that they did not mention tackle in their discussions with him.

For now, this signing draws skepticism from me, but if you trust Davidson (and there is ample reason to), there’s some hope in it yet. Especially if it saves a draft pick.

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  1. Hopefully it is a cheap contract!! I still don’t understand why we have not got a safety, Decoud or Clemons. I really believe it would help the secondary a lot.

    1. I really, really don’t think safety is that big a deal. Sanford is an above average safety that produces more turnovers than people seem to give him credit for and defends the pass more than reasonably well.

      I do remember someone else saying they wouldn’t settle for merely “above average” and that makes sense, but it’s not like anyone outside of Byrd (who’s marginal improvement over a similar signing, like Griffen, would be smaller) would do that. The Vikings are paying below market value to have good starting safeties and great safety depth.

      1. Arif, I respectfully disagree with you. I enjoy reading your articles and insight. Think about if Harrison Smith was/ is hurt ( 8 games last year) the core of Mistral Raymond, Blanton and Sanford are not going to stop any top flight offenses. I believe we need someone better to pair with Harrison Smith. I actually think more of Sendejo ( bigger & younger) than Sanford. I look at Sanford as AVERAGE and that is not where we need to be. Again, Clemons or a Decoud would be good upgrade for the next year or two. I hate having to go into the draft and think we need QB, LB, CB, OL and safety and expect that we hit starters on all of them. This is yet another critical draft for the Vikes because we need a few major pieces that will get either get us to a top tier team shortly or set us back.

        1. You don’t “need” more than an average player to pair with a star player. My only issue with the focus people have on safety as a “need” is that it definitely is only a need if you think of every position where a team has “only”an above average player as a need. For a good amount of money, you could move a position from “above average” to “good.”

          Alternatively, for a similar amount of money, you could move a position from “bad” to “good.”

          The marginal improvement is why I don’t think it’s worth the focus. A second-round draft pick could be used to address the hole(s) at outside linebacker, inside linebacker, guard, quarterback, outside cornerback, etc. A good player there would improve the team far, far more.

          So, too, with depth. I think the depth at cornerback, offensive line, tight end, running back, etc. deserve more attention than the starter at safety. Especially because the depth at safety is pretty good, too.

          I like Deone Buccanon, but he would likely take a second-round pick. No thank you.

          1. It seems I replied to he wrong comment with this one.

            As it so happens, it is still relevant. Hurrah!

          2. Arif, That is to my point. I don’t want to draft a safety in the second round. We have the money in free agency with a few of the real above average or actually good safeties that appear to be had reasonably. As I stated in another post maybe they could sign Carlos Rodgers to a cheap short term contract. Then we would have a secondary that can really compete. I feel that with all the new players and coaches some guys will be better and some worse than expected (obviously). To that point, a lot more will be known. How can anyone who watches our team can say that our secondary hasn’t SUCKED for quite some time. We counted on an age Winfield for a long time. Our horrendous coaching staff watched our defense diminish each of the last five years. Just my thoughts…..

  2. As I agree with with you as it maybe a questionable signing I have faith in our staff and our new approach to coaching up talent, which has been lacking greatly as of late with our team. It seems to me tho that the Vikings obviously see something that we do not as outsiders. It’s not like the jets have really ever had a good offensive line at all in past years which have led to their overall poor offensive play as a whole, and is something we have to consider when it comes down to(is it the player or the coaching staff) in place that was or is the problem. We still have a lot of holes to fill,and if Vlad makes room to draft another High Impact player in the draft I’ll be ok with it,and lol to next year to put finishing touches to our possible stellar Oline. It really seems like this is a very low risk High reward acquisition and I am applauding the teams approach this year as opposed to the past. As always great article Arif…. Bravo

  3. ducasse, is that an artist, or a composer?

    cold shot, baby

    last dance, last chance

    if he can’t make it here, he can’t make it anywhere

  4. This will be a one year minimum deal with little or no guarantees, so I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t like this signing. Hopefully they turn him into something, if not, he’ll get cut in camp.

    1. When I first saw the “Johnson” signing, I thought that they signed Don Johnson. I though “holy crap!, I did not know he started playing football after Miami Vice went off the air.”

      1. I agree with Kevin about our saftey issues, we need a more than average player back there with Smith. What are your thoughts on a guy like Deon Buccannon put back there with Smith?

  5. Its still cap space. A week ago we had 12mm+ in space and now we have 3 more guys on the team that below average and no more cap space.

    This is depth to Charlie Johnson? If Joseph and captain were wins…every signing has been a loss.