The Vikings’ Odd Decision from a Year Ago is Forcing them to Prioritize a Specific Position

Last offseason, the Vikings didn’t add a single offensive lineman in the NFL Draft. True, there were only six selections to work with, but it’s notable nonetheless.

The UDFA haul was impressive, led by a starting defender in linebacker Ivan Pace and then a pair of depth contributors in special teams ace NaJee Thompson and pass rusher Andre Carter II. A pair of offensive linemen got added — Jacky Chen and Alan Ali — but neither was able to stick around. Put it all together and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah didn’t add any young offensive linemen in April or May of 2023.

The Vikings’ Peculiar Decision Along the O-Line

Rick Spielman did a lot of the heavy lifting.

When Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took over, the Vikings were reaping the benefits of Spielman’s concerted effort to rebuild Minnesota’s o-line through the draft. LT Christian Darrisaw, C Garrett Bradbury, and RT Brian O’Neill were all highly-selected starters. Go ahead and toss LG Ezra Cleveland into the mix, at least initially. He isn’t factoring into the future plans given Adofo-Mensah’s decision to ship him out at the trade deadline.

The Vikings Must Improve This Position in 2023
Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) snaps the football along side of guard Ezra Cleveland. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

The Spielman picks also included valuable depth guys like Blake Brandel and Oli Udoh, so the new GM did have some leeway when it came to addressing the front five. Does that margin still exist in the same way, though? The ultra-rugged position needs depth aplenty since it’s a spot that’s both hugely important and prone to injury.

Take a look at the current lay of the land along the offensive line. These are the players currently attached to the roster:

Depth ChartLeft TackleLeft GuardCenterRight GuardRight Tackle
#1Christian DarrisawGarrett BradburyEd IngramBrian O’Neill
#2Henry ByrdCoy CronkTyrese Robinson

A lot of the team’s depth options are moving toward free agency: Oli Udoh, Blake Brandel, Dalton Risner, Austin Schlottmann, Chris Reed, Hakeem Adeniji, and David Quessenberry. Some of these guys are likely to return — Brandel stands out — but others will depart.

And while the Vikings should feel great about the starters they do have, there are injury concerns for all of them. After all, each one missed time during the most recent season to nurse their bumps and bruises (which is to say nothing of past injuries, like O’Neill’s torn Achilles in 2022).

NFL: New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) and offensive tackle Blake Brandel (64) and teammates react during the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is that there are building blocks in place. Darrisaw and O’Neill is a wonderful place to start. Bradbury hasn’t lived up to the prophecies about being the next Jason Kelce, but the embattled Vikings center has improved under the tutelage of Kevin O’Connell and Chris Kuper. Ingram, meanwhile, became a bit of an afterthought as the season progressed, which was a positive development since his errors weren’t so glaring.

Bringing back two or three players from the upcoming free agent pile would make things look a lot different. Take a peek at a possible outcome:

Depth ChartLeft TackleLeft GuardCenterRight GuardRight Tackle
#1Christian DarrisawGarrett BradburyEd IngramBrian O’Neill
#2David QuessenberryHenry ByrdAustin SchlottmannBlake BrandelTyrese Robinson
#3Coy Cronk
NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons
Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) celebrates after a touchdown with guard Dalton Risner (66) against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Tossing Quessenberry, Schlottmann, and Brandel back into the mix makes things appear a lot more full, doesn’t it? Minnesota will have the capacity to keep all three for relatively modest money, so one has to assume that the option will at least be considered.

And while Risner won over a lot of fans in his partial season in Minnesota, the speculation about him demanding $8M per season over three years — Spielberger! — would almost certainly mean it’s a one-and-done for the former Bronco. Solid player, but not someone Kwesi is going to drain the ATM to keep around.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on before the game against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason’s group of offensive linemen will swell to roughly 15 guys, so there’s work to be done.

Currently, there are just seven players under contract up front. Much of the scarcity comes down to not adding a single young offensive lineman last offseason, meaning Minnesota will be compelled to bring back some of their own, be active in free agency, and draft at least one or two players for the o-line.

Sitting on nine draft picks and roughly $25 million in cap space, look for the Vikings to be aggressive when it comes to ratcheting up the competition in this area.

Editor’s Note: Information from Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.