One Prized Viking May Not Be Back after All

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota Vikings fans fell in gridiron love with offensive lineman Dalton Risner in 2023 after he helped stabilize the front five for the first time in years.

The 28-year-old has long been expected to remain with the Vikings when free agency rolls around in March, but that hypothesis has faltered as of late.

One Prized Viking May Not Be Back after All

The new working theory suggests Risner could dart for a large payday on the open market, perhaps making his stint in Minnesota a one-hit-wonder.

Viking May Not Be Back
Former Denver Broncos offensive guard Dalton Risner on Monday Night Football during his first start with the Minnesota Vikings. U.S. Bank Stadium, October 23rd, 2023. Risner started for an injured Ezra Cleveland.

Back in August and September, Vikings fans demanded, tweeted, and yelled for the club to sign Risner from the free-agent wire. The Vikings front office seemed to oblige. The experiment worked. To continue Risner’s stint in purple, though, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah might have to dust off the checkbook. Risner’s price in 2023 was affordable, likely because the regular season was in full swing when signed on the Vikings’ dotted line. Now, Risner could chase the cash, according to former Viking Jeremiah Sirles.

“I think he played well enough; he’s going to want a bigger contract,” Sirles opined on the Purple Insider podcast this week. Sirles also hinted that Adofo-Mensah may not offer such a contract because Minnesota has other roster matters to rectify.

The Dalton Risner
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this month, Pro Football Focus arrived at a similar conclusion regarding Risner. PFF’s Brad Spielberger projected Risner fetching a three-year deal worth a total of $24 million and $15 million in guarantees, a pricetag a bit higher than most Vikings fans have in mind. The hypothetical deal from PFF would make Risner the NFL’s eighth-highest-paid left guard.

Spielberger explained, “Risner’s 2023 free agency didn’t pan out as he’d hoped, so he bided his time before joining the Minnesota Vikings a few weeks into the season on a one-year flier. Risner quickly supplanted Ezra Cleveland at left guard and has been a plus pass protector for the fifth season in a row.”

Risner’s overall PFF grade of 57.1 didn’t break the Richter scale, but his 67.4 pass-blocking score is music to the ears of Vikings fans. For years — arguably a decade — Vikings enthusiasts asked for a competent pass-blocking guard or two, and the wish was granted in 2023 with second-year lineman Ed Ingram and Risner’s addition in September.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports.

“Risner does well to initiate contact with a solid punch, ensuring he doesn’t expose his chest or get his hands swatted away. Even on bull rushes where Risner is driven back and gives up pressure, he keeps his feet square and stays in front of the rusher to prevent a hit on the quarterback, frequently providing this signal-caller with just enough time to still get a pass off,” Spielberger added.

Unless the Vikings want to upgrade at center or let Risner walk, the 2023 OL fivesome should return in 2024, assuming Risner intends to return to the Twin Cities and offer complete offensive line continuity in consecutive years for the first time in ages. Minnesota encountered a few struggles here and there in 2023, but on the whole, the offensive trenches markedly improved, especially because of Risner’s steady pass protection.

Changing Thoughts
January 10th, 2024. Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Kevin O’Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center concluding the 2023 NFL regular season. Minnesota finished 7-10 in 2023 and missed the postseason.

But if Sirles and Spielberger are correct, Minnesota would be forced to use free agency in March for Risner’s replacement or to scour the NFL draft for a left guard.

The takeaway? Risner can still be considered a reasonable option to return in Minnesota for a sequel, but it’s not as ironclad as a couple of months ago. Because he was affordable and available last September doesn’t mean he’ll always be a bargain-bin player.

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,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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