Did Dalton Risner Really Return as a Backup?

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The free agency experience that Dalton Risner has dealt with each of the past two offseasons has to be infuriating. Now, rejoining the Vikings on a surprising deal, to say the least, did he really agree to come back and fight for his starting role?

Did Dalton Risner Really Return as a Backup?

Dalton Risner hit the open market last offseason after spending the first four years of his professional career in Denver playing for the Broncos. He wound up not finding a deal to his liking and ultimately joined the Minnesota Vikings once the season had started. Playing in 15 games and drawing 11 starts, Risner took over Ezra Cleveland’s left guard role and ultimately sent the former starter packing.

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While Risner graded out much better in pass protection than run blocking, his presence was a welcomed one for Vikings quarterbacks, and bringing back a consistent line seemed to make sense. Instead, Kevin O’Connell’s team prioritized Blake Brandel, and while he has never played the guard position in the pros, he was penciled in as the starter. With Risner back in the fold, it sounds like the former backup tackle is the favorite from the jump.

With just a nominal financial commitment to Risner, it makes sense that Brandel could be seen as the starter, but why would Minnesota shake things up so drastically? Installing the former Denver Broncos guard as their starter for a second year in a row would give the offensive line continuity, and Risner has obviously operated in the role for the entirety of his NFL career.

The Dalton Risner
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It stands to reason that the Vikings think they have something in Brandel. He has been praised all offseason as capable of taking over, and presumably, the tackle position would be a tougher spot to handle. Still, he is learning on the fly this summer, and with either Sam Darnold or J.J. McCarthy under center, the franchise can’t afford to have either quarterback facing unnecessary pressure.

Throughout his contract negotiations, Risner has noted frustrations stemming from a lack of dollars and respect for what he was looking for. Maybe the Vikings told him initially that he would only be brought back as a backup, or maybe he wasn’t cool with a lowball offer. It seems he took something far less than market value, but if he needs to fight to start, it makes sense.

It’s hard to believe that Brandel would put the Vikings in a better spot on the line, but maybe O’Connell is focused on needing a higher production level in the running game. Risner struggled there, and unless he’s going to make strides, this could be a true competition.

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Who takes the field first for Week 1 should remain among the most intriguing roster spots across the entire team.


Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.

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