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Kelechi Osemele’s Free Agent Fit with the Vikings

Brandon Fusco made the switch from right guard to left guard for the Minnesota Vikings last season, and his transition was as smooth as Adrian Peterson trying to hold onto the football in a playoff game. In simpler terms, he struggled throughout 2015, and his difficulty shifting to the opposite side of the line has raised questions about the unit as a whole.

Specifically, the Vikings must decide what to do with three players this offseason: center John Sullivan, right tackle Phil Loadholt, and right guard Mike Harris. The first two will make their return from injuries in 2016, but an instant rebound isn’t guaranteed for either player. And given their large salary cap hits, general manager Rick Spielman may decide to move forward without them next season.

That leaves Harris, who is set to become a free agent. The four-year veteran should garner a healthy contract from the Vikings or another suitor in March. Letting Harris, Loadholt, and Sullivan walk would allow Spielman to spend more money in free agency. It’s a strategy he rarely employs, but a strategy that potentially makes sense with the rare talent hitting the market next month.

Meet Kelechi Osemele, a free agent guard-tackle hybrid who immediately patches a hole on the Vikings’ offensive line.

Osemele began his career with the Baltimore Ravens, when he was selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Iowa State. The Cyclones standout started 38 games at left tackle in college, but was immediately challenged to flip sides his rookie season. It’s a trait that’s defined Osemele’s four-year career in the league, per the Ravens’ official website:

2012: (16/16, 4/4) Started all 16 games at right tackle during the regular season and moved to left guard during Baltimore’s four-game Super Bowl run.

2013: (7/7) Started seven games at left guard before being placed on Injured Reserve (back) on 11/8/13

2014: (14/14, 2/2) Started all 16 games at left guard.

2015: (16/16) Started 12 games at left guard before moving to left tackle for the final four weeks of the season.

The 26 year-old’s standout performance came in 2014. It was then that he was given the chance to start all 16 regular season games in one spot — left guard. The continuity earned Osemele praise and recognition. Pro Football Focus named him the sixth-best guard that season, awarding him the fourth-highest run-blocking grade of the year. According to the analytics website, Osemele allowed just two sacks in 2014 while simultaneously building on his reputation as a notorious “road grading” run blocker.

At the time, offensive line coach Juan Castillo marveled at Osemele’s ability to finish plays . “The way ‘K.O’ finishes every play is incredible,” he said in an interview with ESPN. “I don’t know that there’s anybody in the NFL that finishes better than he does.” Osemele’s “finisher” mentality was on full display in one of the team’s most important 2014 games. Late in the Ravens’ playoff matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Osemele obliterated linebacker James Harrison, giving Joe Flacco enough time to find Torrey Smith for a touchdown pass.

Kelechi Osemele's free agent fit
Osemele times his block perfectly, knocking Harrison down to spring Flacco free

Plays like the one above highlight the strength and physicality that made Osemele such a highly-regarded prospect in 2012. The NFL’s draft experts called Osemele an “extremely strong, natural run blocker” with the power to “visibly jolt defenders back.” Despite his raw ability and limited value at tackle, the Ravens brought Osemele in, and their gamble paid off. Osemele not only proved Mike Mayock wrong — shedding his label as a “phone-booth guard” — but proved to be one of Baltimore’s most prized additions in recent draft classes.

Heading into the 2015 season, ESPN ranked Osemele as the Ravens’ 10th-best player, specifically focusing on his limited future in Baltimore. Like so many Ravens before him, including Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones, Osemele has played well enough to price himself out of Baltimore. It’s a situation that Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome understands and has seemingly embraced.

“When [Kelechi Osemele] agreed to move to left tackle, we thought it was a good thing for us to get a chance to watch him over the course of four games, and then also improve his value to the National Football League,” he said, per ESPN. Newsome was forced to move Osemele outside, as former starter Eugene Monroe battled through injuries in 2015. And in doing so, he created a difficult situation for the Ravens, who recently signed right guard Marshal Yanda to a lucrative contract extension.

If Osemele is a guard in Newsome’s eyes, then it’d make little sense to invest millions of dollars in two players next season. But if he’s Joe Flacco’s long-term blindside protector, the Ravens have to view Osemele as a must re-sign, no matter the price. Unfortunately, the conundrum is a losing battle for the Ravens. By cutting Monroe and signing Osemele in 2016, Newsome would add at least $6.6 million in dead money to the salary cap, setting his team’s development back further.

The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec agrees, making it clear that Osemele will be too expensive for the Ravens this offseason. “I saw five or six playoff teams over the past month that would benefit from having Osemele, and there are countless other teams that didn’t make the playoffs that need offensive line help,” he said. Those teams include the Vikings, who may be the most offensive line-needy playoff contender of all.

Pro Football Focus believes that Osemele is entering the “prime of his career.” He used his diverse experience in 2015 to repeatedly establish himself as one of “the best run blockers in the entire league.” His play in 2015 at left guard vaulted him to the top of the website’s rankings. Through Week 14, Osemele had allowed just one sack, two quarterback hits, and 10 hurries all year. At the time, his pass blocking efficiency of 97.6 was the ninth-best among all guards, and he finished 2015 with an overall grade of 93.0 at the position; good enough to earn him a spot on PFF’s “top unrestricted free agents” list.

Kelechi Osemele's free agent fit
Image courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Numbers-wise, the Vikings have plenty of cap space to make an offer for Osemele in free agency. Spielman’s non-history of making “splash” signings in March will play a major factor, though.

If he’s willing to shell out anywhere from $7 million to $9.5 million per year for a top-flight left guard, the Vikings can immediately address a major position of need. Osemele has the range of experience to play multiple positions, from right tackle to left guard. His addition would give Tony Sparano options along the offensive line, regardless of who the team releases or keeps this offseason.

If not, the game of musical chairs along the offensive line will continue in 2016. And if it does, Teddy Bridgewater will continue to dance for his life in the pocket.

 

 

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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23 Comments

  1. Finally someone over there is talking about this guy! Rick will spend when the fit and player is justified. I think this is a similar situation. Like Joseph you have a guy coming into the prime of his career who can change the line. Given our need, I think / hope it is likely Rick is a player in the Osemele market.

    To me this is where is off season starts, #1 priority. We can more easily fill SS, LB, WR in the draft than we can LG. We have to make a strong oush for this guy. I just can’t imagine Spielman wouldn’t make an aggressive play for him.

    1. Totally agree with you!! This should be #1 priority!! To get Osemele sign when FA start! And we have to be aggressive!! Can’t make the mistake like last year.. on LG!! And LG has been a problem since.. Steve Hutchinson left!

  2. Totally agree with Austin’s article. I think that Osemele MUST BE the guy in this 2016 NFL Free Agency: Teddy’s protection needs to be our first concern, because we saw this year that without an at least average protection he can be good at best, but he cannot make the difference. Plus, I think that we have to stop this fuckin’ awful experiments in the OL, we need quality at every single position and that means that Fusco must go back to RG spot and that we need a true and ready LG. Osemele is the best option in that way: he’s young, he’s a proved quality guard (he played very well in a division were there are some of the best interior DLinemen of the league such as Geno Atkins or Cameron Heyward) and last but not least he can be our B plan if Kalil resurrection would never see the light. With a player like this in roster we could afford to spend in the Draft a 1st round pick for a WR (if we’d cut Wallace) or for a LB or SS to complete our already elite defense.

    Come on Rick, have this purchase!

  3. Osemele would be a nice addition to the Vikings if the price is right.

    I see a lot of fans complaining that the Vikings never sign free agents. That simply is not the case. The Vikings sign free agents when they can close a deal which makes sense for the team. Linval Joseph is a perfect example of this.

    What the Vikings do not do is throw stupid money at free agents. That is a good thing, because there is nothing worse in this league than salary cap hell. Watching a team like the Saints getting blown up because they failed to manage their cap space is fun as a Vikings fan, but I really don’t want to watch the same thing happen to the Vikings.

    The Vikings might sign Osemele at $7 million per year, but it is likely that some team is going to push harder than that.

    Unloading The Incredible Fumbling Man and replacing him with the more affordable Matt Forte would be a nice way to clear enough salary cap space to make signing Osemele a reality.

  4. We aren’t touching Forte. Bet.

    $7mm isn’t going to do it. I think it’s going to take something closer to $8.5mm. To say that the Vikings should stick to $7mm and not ‘pay up’…well I just don’t that argument at all. We have talent on the offense and we MUST give Teddy better protection to utilize the talent around him.

    Pricing ourselves at $7mm so we can sign two mediocore players in free agency who will be competing for roster spots..I just don’t get that. Would much rather spend the money on one guy who solves a MAJOR need and provides all around depth to the OL.

    We aren’t talking about a flashy name, or a diva WR (someone like Alshon) we talking about an offensive gaurd who has the ability to be a starting LT. I can’t think of a single thing we need more, or a better possible fit.

    That $1.5mm “premium” you may have to pay to lure Osemele is money very well spent in my opinion. Think of how many millions of dollars in payroll that are not being utilized when Teddy gets swallowed up in 0.5 seconds, or when the line can’t open a gap for AD. Pricing ourselves out of Osemele by drawing a line at $7mm ensure we don’t get him, and ensures we are hoping we can draft a LG (sorry Fusco is no longer an option). I don’t see us drafting a starting LG.

    $1.5mm “premium” is money well spent, in that we don’t have many others holes to fill. If signing Osemele is literllay all we do in free agency I would be through the roof with excitement. Again all of the other holes can be filled through the draft, and the offensive line with the addition of Osemele instantly improves dramatically, and has increased depth. For a proven commodity entering his prime, that premium cap space is well allocated to Osemele in my view.

    1. How is fusco not an option anymore? The guy was a top 3 rated RG, and than he had a pectoral injury and than on top of that, the Vikings decided to move him to LG. Fusco is the LG for the foreseeable future and hopefully Harris is the RG for the foreseeable future.

      1. I am thinking he will be back at RG next year Chance. But Harris did play well and could relegate him to a back up role. Harris is also flexible and could play at RT. I am thinking that the Vikes will have a lot of options if they can manage to bring in a FA or two for the o line and I cannot see how they do not address the o line in the draft also. I don’t think that they will be able to trade any of the 3 “ifs” (Kalil, Sully, Loadholt) but I would not be surprised if one or more of them were cut if they do pick up one or more FA’s and a high draft pick for the o line. This scenario plus a safety, a bigger red zone threat type WR, and a bit more depth at LB just might make them serious contenders for a 12 or more win season and, dare we think it, a decent shot at the SB as early as next season.

  5. We aren’t over-spending on a top tier FA. Bet.

    This front office isn’t going to go beyond what their comfortable with. Last year, we checked in on Clint Boling, he ended up staying in Cinci when the price got too high. Same for Devin McCourtey. KO playing well at OT earned him more money, plain and simple. Whether he’s signed just to play OG or OT, he’s gonna want OT money.

    All these arguments were made last year, and years prior. We do need help. That’s obvious. But if anyone thinks for a minute Rick will give a huge contract to a FA OL you’re sorely mistaken and haven’t watched this front office operate the last 5 years. We look for mid-tier players with upside and get them at affordable prices that supplement the draft choices on the team.

    Mortgaging the future isn’t going to happen. Harrison Smith will get paid this year. Several players will need to be resigned. There are a lot of other young players who will need to be resigned in the coming years and it’s not smart to jeopardise that for one big time FA. History has shown the majority of big FAs fail to work out going to a new team.

    It’s much more economical and cost effective to fill OL needs in the draft. S is an undervalued position in the NFL and finding a starter there in FA would be a much wiser solution. Same for a part time WLB or run stuffing MLB.

    Build through the draft. It’s what good, smart teams do.

    1. I think Spielman and the Vikings have done a great job of bringing in talent for the coaches to use in building a successful team. At the same time, I think it is time to change the strategy.

      The acquisition strategy that works to take a losing team with a poor record and lots of holes to fill is not the same as the strategy with a successful team looking for improvement to push things over the top. I think it is time for Spielman and the Vikes to abandon the desire to get 10 draft picks every year with many of them coming in the later rounds. At this point, we have a few holes to fill and we need talent that will play, not someone that may not even make the team, and if they do is inactive every week.

      I would push for an upggrade on the OL as the top priority given both level of the play last year and the uncertainty of the health of Loadholt and Sullivan. We should next push for a starting safety to play alongside of Harrison Smith.We should then look for help at WR and LB. After that, all the players taken are for depth and can be picked up as lower cost free agents or in the later rounds. I would look to use the latter round draft picks to move up in the 2nd and third rounds to get players that can start and/or make a difference.

      Picking up a player like Osemele in FA would be a great start to the offseason. This could be our year to win it all. We have a solid core of players and if we can fix the OL, both our offense and defense will produce wins. Let’s go Vikes!!!!

      1. Partially agree. I think the strategy will change from the draft standpoint. We don’t have 10 roster spots available so drafting Rick’s usual 10 picks would be partially a waste…tho there is something to be said for quality training camp bodies and competition. I can see moving up in the mid rounds and coming away with 4 or 5 quality guys over the late round quantity approach.

        Still tho, can’t see any big name, top tier FAs getting signed. It simply hasn’t been the M.O. here in the recent past and shouldn’t be now.

        1. Tashaun Gipson would be a nice acquisition as well….or George Iloka, or Weddle. Marvin Jones would be nice too. There will be money spent in FA one way or another…………just sucks having to be patient and wait. All I know, is these guys know what they are doing, and I am behind the Vikes 100%.

    2. Mortgaging the future? Hardly. There is plenty of cap space, and more available once certain individuals are cut. And, that was then, this is now. Vikes are on the verge of greatness. You think they won’t pull the trigger if they see the missing piece? I agree with who ever made the Lindval Joseph comment – look how well he has panned out.

  6. Regardless of what the price tag will be, the positive thought for the day is the Vikings are in good shape to roll out the red carpet for a top tier FA offensive lineman. If the price tag is too high the Vikings are also in great position to land Conklin, Whitehair or Garnett in the late first round. Either way the Vikings are in the cat bird seat to seriously upgrade the offensive line.

  7. I would love to see the Vikings sign this guy and Cordy Glenn. I know the two would likely cost them about 20 M/year. Imagine the Vikes line with these two on the left, Sully or Berger in the middle, Fusco/Clemmings at RG with Kalil/Clemmings at RT. Perhaps Phil at RT and try to trade Kalil? I did leave out Phil. Just love the guy but serious injuries have been an issue for two consecutive years, a lot of money towards the cap for a guy that is not on the field. Point being, Clemmings and Berger are a lot less, Fusco a bit less, than Kalil and Phil. Without one or both of those latter two contracts they would have the room to wheel and deal for both KO and Glenn. I would have to think that KO would be demanding something similar to Iupatt’s contract, Glenn maybe pushing 10. But front load both contracts with some guaranteed money instead of back loading and they would have a pretty solid line for the next five years.

  8. I think signing KO is at the top of my wishlist for this offseason . It’s crucial to sure up this line and quality competition . I would even go as far to still draft a lineman in the first unless a big name fell down the board like Treadwell or J.smith . By adding someone like whitehair and KO you now have:
    Kalil , KO , sulli , fusco, loadhoalt . With great depth in whitehair Clemmings , berger , and harris

    OR

    If you wanted to proceed without loadhoalt and Sullivan our line could then look like :
    Kalil , whitehair , berger , fusco , KO

    W/ Clemmings , harris , kerin , easton

    To then think even further into the future this also allows us to give Kalil one more year . If he’s still a letdown we finally rid ourselves KO plays left tackle and Clemmings in his 3rd year is hopefully ready to start at right tackle .

  9. Would be great to sign him. Releasing or redoing Wallace’s contract could free up the money to do so – much easier for a rookie WR to make an impact than it would for a rookie OL.

  10. Sign Osemele at LG and then Mitchell Schwartz at RT would be ideal for the teams OL. Could do this by releasing/redoing Wallace’s contract, doing the same with Loadholt and looking at redoing Kalil’s contract. The team and OL deserves this kind of attention.

  11. So, taking into account all of the caveats regarding Sullivan, Loadholt and Harris, who would like to return but might be offered more money and a clearer shot at a starting position elsewhere, if Osemele is the only outside free agent offensive lineman we sign we’re talking about:

    Kalil at LT
    Osemele at LG
    Sullivan or Berger at C
    Fusco or Harris at RG
    Loadholt, Harris or Clemmings at RT

    I like what I’ve read about some of our young benchwarmers, especially Easton, Kerin and Shepherd.

    Outside of Kalil, I am comfortable with the above starters, but I want to draft an LT who can challenge Kalil this year or next.

  12. I would rather sign Incognito personally if the $ is right. Harris/Fusco should fight for the RG spot. Bring back Kalil at a much lower cap hit…Building a top 5 offensive line should be of equal importance as building a top defense in my opinion. If you have to spend more to accomplish that, I say go for it… Zimmer is a scheme guy defensively and he will always be able to maximize talent on that side of the ball..Everything being said I trust in Rick to fill our holes.

    1. I respectfully disagree that a top 5 O-line is as important as a killer D. Of the last 4 teams standing this year, AZ had the best OL. Also, the two teams with probably the best OLs in the league are picking 2nd and 4th in the upcoming draft. I say keep building that D and let the continuity of the OL show it’s reward. It is real hard to be patient though when we finally see reason for hope!

  13. I would prefer to see the Vikings take any of the following (listed in order of my preference) with the 23rd pick: Jack Conklin, Cody Whitehair, Joshua Garnett, UNLESS, Jaylon Smith falls to the 23rd pick, then selecting an elite LB, even with a lengthy knee rehab, is a no-brainer. I would prefer that this selection is made even IF Osemele can be signed. Pick number 54 in the second round can then be used on the best safety available UNLESS Zimmer can persuade one of the Bengal safeties to join a playoff team in a brand new stadium. If Zim can make the FA safety thing happen, then use the second round pick to take the best Will linebacker on the board hopefully Sua Cravens(assuming we haven’t already drafted Jaylon Smith). Third round prospects could include smaller school WR stars. I would bundle the 5th, 6th, and both 7th round picks to get a mid round 4th to go with the 23rd 4th round pick. With those picks I would take DL and a developmental tackle. Make that happen and the Vikings will be playing in SB 52 in US Bank Stadium!

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