Continuity, Not Rebuilding, the Big Theme in Vikings Free Agency

Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O'Connell at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, after a 20-17 win over the Washington Commanders in Week 9 of the 2022 regular season.

The Minnesota Vikings entered the offseason with many uncertainties. Some expected a huge roster turnover. Even the word rebuild was used. About one week into free agency, it became clear that the Vikings planned to keep the roster together with some new reinforcements. It’s a franchise that actually wants to compete in 2023.

Four external players have been signed so far. Josh Oliver, a tight end with upside, was the first, followed by edge rusher Marcus Davenport. He struggled with injuries in his career but could be a bargain if healthy. Cornerback Byron Murphy was a great signing for the purple team, as the coverage unit has been a disaster for quite some time. Murphy has the ability to change that in the near future. The third defensive addition is Dean Lowry, who offers some interior pass rush to the room, something the unit lacked.

Continuity, Not Rebuilding, the Big Theme in Vikings Free Agency

Continuity Is the Big Theme in Vikings Free Agency
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Very interesting is the strategy for the own free agents. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is trying to retain many of them. The most significant one is Garrett Bradbury, who finally played at a solid level in his fourth career season in the new scheme and system implemented by head coach Kevin O’Connell.

In addition to Bradbury, the Vikings will return every starting and meaningful backup offensive lineman. The other starters, Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Ed Ingram, and Brain O’Neill, were all still under contract when the purple team started the offseason, but the future of the backups was in jeopardy.

In February, the Vikings re-signed Blake Brandel for another season. He was a restricted free agent, and the team wanted to keep their backup tackle in the building. His one-year deal is worth $940,000, a bargain for the next man up in case of an injury.

Vikings re-sign free agent
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But Brandel wasn’t the only one who was retained. The Vikings and backup guard and center Chris Reed agreed to a paycut, and he will stay with the organization for another season. Reed brings plenty of starting experience and is the much-needed veteran backup in the interior of the line.

Austin Schlottmann, Bradbury’s backup center, will also return on a one-year deal. A more surprising re-signing was Oli Udoh. The backup right tackle started in place of O’Neill after his Achilles injury and played remarkably well after a catastrophic 2021 season in which he had to play guard. Udoh is a much better tackle.

Next Man Up Is Preferred for Vikings
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The surprise is not that the Vikings were interested in bringing him back but that no other team brought him in to compete for a starting job after his good outings at right tackle, especially because so many teams have problems with their protections upfront.

Besides Udoh and Brandel, the Vikings also employ Vederian Lowe, a 6th-round selection in last year’s draft. The team kept him on the roster all year, not taking the risk of losing him by putting him on the practice squad where he could’ve signed with anyone. That shows how much the coaching staff likes him.

The final player in the offensive line room is Josh Sokol. He attended Sacred Heart University and played FCS football. Sokol, a center, was on the practice squad all season and should be considered a long shot to make the team. The team didn’t elevate him to the gameday roster despite injuries to Bradbury and his backup Schlottmann in Week 18 but liked him enough to have him back on the offseason roster.

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A unit that returns every single player can be a huge advantage. They know each other, and familiarity should lead to some improvements. Offensive line coach Chris Kuper will also return for another season. He is a former NFL guard who kept Broncos QBs clean from 2006 to 2013, including Peyton Manning.

The two tackle spots are filled with some incredible players, and the Vikings don’t need to be concerned. If healthy, Darrisaw and O’Neill are an elite duo. O’Neill is already paid like a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Darrisaw should sign a massive extension one year from now.

Vikings Activate Rookie
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The struggles in 2022 came from the interior. Quarterback Kirk Cousins led the league in hits, a problem that can’t be sustainable and needs to be fixed. Ingram had the usual rookie troubles and had all kinds of issues, including stepping on Kirk Cousins’ feet multiple times and messing up assignments. However, he became more consistent later in the season and could be in line for a jump this offseason.

Cleveland at left guard is getting better and better every season. An extension could be on the table sometime in the upcoming months, as he’s entering the final year of his rookie deal. The run blocking is outstanding, but the pass protection needs some work.

The Vikings have 11 offensive linemen on the roster for the upcoming season. The team likely wants to add more players to the group, possibly some competition for Ingram’s right guard spot, but the most likely scenario is that the starting unit will be the same as in 2022.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt