The GM’s View: Darrisaw Likely the Next Vikings 1st-Time Pro Bowler

The Vikings Top Players from Best to Worst: After Week 14
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Going into the 2022 season, right tackle Brian O’Neill was the Vikings top offensive lineman, which the team confirmed when he was signed to a five-year, $92.5 million extension ($18.5 million per year) that kicked in last season.  

The GM’s View: Darrisaw Likely the Next Vikings 1st-Time Pro Bowler

O’Neill had another excellent season until his Achilles injury in Week 17 against the Packers cut his season short, and he was certainly missed in the playoff loss to the Giants. But as the 2022 season progressed, left tackle Christian Darrisaw stepped up his performance compared to his rookie season when he had a slow start due to a groin injury, and Darrisaw is now on equal footing with O’Neill or perhaps slightly ahead, at least according to many NFL analysts who rank Darrisaw among the NFL’s top 100 players and top 25 under the age of 25.

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Pro Football Focus graded him second behind only San Francisco All-pro Trent Williams among OTs in 2022. ESPN ranked Darrisaw No. 53 and O’Neill No. 66 in their Top 100 from last season. And CBS Sports had Darrisaw at No. 56 (among three Vikings who made Pete Prisco’s list, including J.J. at No. 7 and Harrison Smith at No. 97).  

Darrisaw came on strong and showed the size, strength, and quickness that made him a first-round pick at No. 23 overall by the Vikings in 2021. He has great feet and hand strength that are keys for success at tackle when facing top pass rushers. If Darrisaw continues his ascension as one of the league’s top left tackles, his first Pro Bowl nod should be forthcoming in 2023. 

Christian Darrisaw Is
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The upcoming season also is a big one on the contract front for Darrisaw as a Pro Bowl or All-Pro season (or having another great season that reinforces his caliber of play at that level) would set him up for a huge extension in 2024 when he has completed his third season. At that point, he would be in a similar position to Justin Jefferson, who is now extension-eligible with three excellent seasons under his belt. 

Darrisaw could be on track for a contract in the range of the top tackles in the league —Williams, Houston’s Laremy Tunsil, and Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari — who are all in the $22-23.5 million per year range (as left tackles generally make more money than right tackles with their usual role as blindside protector for a right-handed QB such as Kirk Cousins in Darrisaw’s case).  

The Vikings’ tight salary cap will be difficult to manage again next year as Darrisaw likely joins the group of highly-paid players on the team. Fortunately for the Vikings and other NFL teams, the cap continues to rise yearly (other than the pandemic year of 2020) with the growth of league revenues, especially in the television and streaming areas. The cap increased by about $20 million this year to $224.8 million, and 2024 should see a similar or perhaps greater increase. 

The Vikings Need Kevin
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The Vikings are in terrific shape at the offensive tackle spots with the 27-year-old O’Neill, who was a second-round pick in 2018 and made his first Pro Bowl in 2021, and Darrisaw, who also has emerged as an elite player.  

I see the current Vikings in a similar advantageous situation at OT as was the case for the Vikings teams in the late 1990s when I was GM. We drafted Todd Steussie in the 1994 first round and Korey Stringer the following year, also as a first-rounder. Steussie became a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time Second-team All-Pro (in 1997 and 1998), while Stringer was a Pro Bowl selection in 2000 (before his life was so sadly cut short when he died from heat stroke complications in 2001 training camp).  

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Steussie and Stringer — along with Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel and Pro Bowl center Jeff Christy — led our outstanding offensive line that was the backbone of five straight playoff teams from 1996-2000 and the record-setting offense in our 15-1 season of 1998. That O-line opened holes for Pro Bowl running back Robert Smith and gave our QBs Randall Cunningham and Brad Johnson time to hit our tremendous trio of wide receivers in Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Cris Carter, plus Jake Reed.  

It’s certainly comforting for Kirk Cousins to know he has Darrisaw and O’Neill to protect him and block well in the running game for Alexander Mattison and Company to help create a somewhat balanced attack in this passing-dominant era.   

Around the NFL Observations: 

I did an analysis for The 33rd Team national website in which I picked the NFL’s best team at every position group. Here are my choices: QBs—Chiefs; Wide Receivers—Bengals (remember this is the best group, and I wrote that the Vikings could be in the hunt if Jordan Addison has a big rookie year to augment Jefferson and K.J. Osborn); Running Backs—49ers; Tight Ends—Chiefs (again I have the Vikings pushing for the top duo with T.J. Hockenson and Josh Oliver); Offensive Line—Eagles; Defensive Line/Edge Rushers—Eagles; Linebackers—49ers; Cornerbacks—Dolphins; Safeties—49ers; Special Teams—Ravens.  

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl