1 Viking Not Named ‘Jefferson’ or ‘Hockenson’ May Seek Big Offseason Payday

about Dalvin Cook
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings will dole out at least $30 million per season to retain phenom wideout Justin Jefferson and another undetermined amount to glue tight end T.J. Hockenson to the roster for the next 4-6 years.

But that may not be all for the big spending, according to the Pioneer Press‘ Chris Tomasson.

1 Viking Not Named ‘Jefferson’ or ‘Hockenson’ May Seek Big Offseason Payday

It’s Ezra Cleveland, Minnesota’s steady-eddy left guard. Tomasson tweeted Saturday, “While much of chatter involving Vikings extensions in the offseason has surrounded Justin Jefferson & TJ Hockenson, keep an eye out for possible extension for Ezra Cleveland, rated NFL No. 10 guard in 2022 by PFF. He has interest in a long-term deal as he enters the final year of his contract.”

1 Viking Not Named
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings drafted Cleveland in the 2nd Round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and the man is under contract in purple through the end of 2023. He’ll be a Viking no matter what in 2023, but players on the final year of contracts generally begin discussions about the future, well, now — especially the proficient ones. In that vein, Tomasson is correct that Cleveland and his agent will likely start knocking on general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s door in the next month.

Not a Pro Bowler, Cleveland is still a productive offensive lineman, particularly for a franchise beset by poor offensive guard play until Cleveland’s arrival from Boise State three years ago. Here’s his Pro Football Focus resume:

  • 2020 = 66.2
  • 2021 = 68.6
  • 2022 = 73.5
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports.

The only knock of Cleveland, for now, is pass protection. The Vikings employ Kirk Cousins at quarterback — who is not overly mobile — and Cleveland’s pass-blocking from PFF in 2022 was a lowly 53.2. That grade separates him from absolute stardom, as the “typical” big-name offensive guards excel via run-blocking and pass protection.

Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

Mentioned by Tomasson as the NFL’s 10th-best guard — PFF‘s website actually lists Cleveland as eighth in the league — Cleveland can probably command about $10-$12 million per season on his next deal, whether with the Vikings or elsewhere. Adofo-Mensah will, therefore, have to decide if an offensive lineman with a poor pass-protection skillset is worth megabucks.

Otherwise, Minnesota could take a flyer on a mid-to-late-round left guard in the 2023 or 2024 NFL Draft, saving money along the way if they hit on the draft pick. The Vikings invest heavily at right tackle in Brian O’Neill, must pay Christian Darrisaw in a couple of years, and have a looming choice on Garrett Bradbury’s contract, which has effectively expired.

On the whole, the problem is good. Vikings fans endured awful guard and center play for much of the Mike Zimmer era, so contemplating the next contracts for Cleveland and Bradbury is better than life with Dakota Doziers or Dru Samias.

NFL free agency begins on March 15th, and the Cleveland contract extension talks can begin as early as now.

The Vikings rank fourth-worst leaguewide at the moment via available cap space in 2023.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.