Of the 1,500+ total players in the NFL, Bleacher Report has selected Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff as a candidate for cap casualty this offseason. What are the odds that a good offensive lineman would be the target of the Vikings cap-casualty affection? Strange days.
Bleacher Report titles these “surprising cuts,” and an all-out release of Reiff would be somewhat surprising for the Vikings – but not stunning. Reiff is slated to be the third-highest paid Vikings player in 2021 with quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive end Danielle Hunter the only two men earning more cash than Reiff.
Reiff, 32, joined Minnesota in 2017 and has been quite effective during his four purple seasons. The former Lions tackle wiggles into a good-not-great category – and the Vikings need all the “good” they can get in the offensive trenches [at the very least].
But now his time in the North Star State may be winding down. Bleacher Report theorized nine notable players for the chopping block – and wouldn’t you know it – a noteworthy Vikings offensive lineman made the list. The team should be stockpiling offensive-line resources, not kicking them to the curb. Yes, Reiff is expensive, and that is an applicable fact to the equation.
Ideally, though, it would be enjoyable to read articles on the internet that reveal who the Vikings will acquire to fix the trenches – not subtract.
On the matter, Maurice Morton of Bleacher Report wrote:
“The Minnesota Vikings could prepare 2020 second-rounder Ezra Cleveland to play his natural position at left tackle in the upcoming season. Last year, Cleveland started nine games at right guard. At 6’6″, 311 pounds, he struggled with pass protection on the interior, giving up five sacks, per Pro Football Focus. Cleveland would likely fare better on the perimeter, where he can use his athleticism and quickness in the Vikings’ outside-zone scheme, but that would likely happen at Riley Reiff’s expense.”
If that is correct, Ezra Cleveland will return to his organic roots.
Be Careful – Be Very Careful
Minnesota habitually shoves the NFL’s fourth-worst offensive line via pass-protection onto the field each Sunday. Such has been the case for 2019 and 2020 per Pro Football Focus. Kirk Cousins is ceaselessly under duress. Vikings enthusiasts often forget what a real “pocket” is until other NFL games not involving the Vikings are on the television screen.
While jettisoning Reiff is understandable because of his price tag, the fear is that general manager Rick Spielman would skimp – again – in piecemealing the offensive line. The hodgepodge days of offensive line operation must end. It never works. When it did – sort of – the Vikings ranked 17th in pass-protection (in 2017). To date with Mike Zimmer, 17th via pass blocking in the NFL is the ceiling.
Releasing Reiff feels backward rather the forward-thinking. If he is rendered temporarily unemployed, Cleveland must shine as a replacement.
Back to Two Needs at Offensive Line
Then, the Vikings need two decent-or-good offensive linemen during the 2021 offseason. And they will be forced to find these men on a Lean Cuisine budget. As it stands, the team only really needs one guard to put an offensive line group on the field that would seep optimism. Well, some optimism – not an unabashed rendition.
Life without Reiff could, in theory, work swimmingly, but the immediate shopping-cart task grows. The Vikings would explore cheapie options in free agency or find gems in the draft. Good luck.
Do you want to rely on a “let’s see what these guys got” offensive line in 2021? From the same folks that you brought you Dru Samia and Dakota Dozier? No – a preferable fivesome includes names that are familiar and credible. Reiff is a familiar and credible name.
Perhaps restructuring Reiff’s deal is more appropriate for 2021 than an outright release.
Cutting the Good Pass Protector
Reiff is a much better pass-blocker (74.9 PFF grade in 2020) than he is run-paver (60.8 PFF grade in 2020). His offensive-line teammates tend to exude inverse aptitudes. Most Vikings offensive linemen excel with the run game while embarrassingly digressing in pass protection.
Naturally, the game plan as hypothesized by Bleacher Report would be to release the good pass-protector. What is a bottom-feeding pass-protection team doing retaining these good pass-blockers anyway?
Sarcasm aside, it is counterproductive to trim good pass-blockers from a bad pass-blocking team. Maybe shedding some of the poor run-blockers in favor of astute pass-blockers would net more success. Just a theory.
The only rationale for a total release of Riley Reiff occurs if he refuses to restructure altogether.