Vikings Need Offensive Line Help. Cornerbacks Arrive.
The Minnesota Vikings selected Mackensie Alexander in the 2nd Round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He remained with the team for the duration of his rookie contract before trekking to the Cincinnati Bengals at this time last year.
Alexander was afforded 61% of all defensive snaps in Ohio – the most playing time the 27-year-old has received in his career to date. With the Vikings, Alexander played about 40% of all defensive snaps.
He was a decent performer in Cincinnati, tabulating a 60.4 Pro Football Focus grade and a wonderful 82.3 passer-rating-against in 2020.
And now Alexander is returning home. He will compete for playing time with a now-robust cornerback room led by head coach Mike Zimmer – a man famous for cultivating cornerback prosperity. Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, and Jeff Gladney were already slated to receive ample playing time in the Vikings secondary for 2021, but now the plan will be revised in an unknown fashion. Why? Because Alexander is worthy of considerable action. He is not a player just to throw in the game every now and then.
Indeed, Minnesota has fortified its secondary. Such is not the case – yet – for the offensive line. The team ranked 29th in the NFL during 2020 for pass protection. At the moment, the only true-blue and change-oriented transaction to “fix” the line is the recent trade for Mason Cole. He’s a center from the Arizona Cardinals that evidently needs a change of scenery via the guard position. The Vikings may grant him that wish – or employ his services in a rotational, reservist manner.
Patrick Patterson, Mackensie Alexander
After defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson signed with the Vikings on the first day of free agency’s legal tampering, the waters calmed a bit. About 48 hours later, the same waters rippled as All-Pro cornerback Patrick Patterson joined the Vikings. The deal was even sweeter because Peterson was the one that reached out to general manager Rick Spielman. Virtually no pundit forecasted that Peterson would end up in Minnesota.
The move was welcomed with mostly glowing reviews by Vikings nation. Fans then anticipated an offensive-line signing would follow.
Earlier this week, Spielman sent a 6th-Round 2021 draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals for Mason Cole. It is unknown if Cole will start or back up a player to be named later. So, the waiting game continues for “what will this team finally do about the offensive line.”
Then, Alexander was acquired – another cornerback. Because he inked at a league minimum for cost, the deal was universally championed. But the ravenous fan base still awaits an offensive line solution.
For Now, It’s the Same ‘ol Gameplan at OL
There are more than five months until the Vikings play meaningful 2021 football games. That is a lot of time to fix a spot on the depth chart. Perhaps the franchise will do just that at offensive line.
But it has not been a fierce priority – like the cornerback spot.
What the Vikings have done at cornerback with the signings of Peterson and Alexander – is what many folks expected [or hoped] Spielman would for the offensive line. Acquire bonafide names to finally put to rest the mediocrity-based mindset.
When a team taps a coach like Zimmer to lead the enterprise, yes, defense with usually be the point of emphasis. Yet, there has to be – just has to be – someone in the Vikings leadership that vividly views the offensive line struggles like the rest of the world. Half measures are always enacted to repair the offensive line – especially at the guard positions. Brian O’Neill is fantastic at right tackle. Garrett Bradbury will embark on a career-defining season this September. Ezra Cleveland played well for a rookie last year.
And that leaves two spots to make the thing whole. If the remedy is more men like Dakota Dozier or Dru Samia, the output will not be much better than 2020.
Draft Upcoming, Maturity Can Help
It is wildly premature, though, to vilify Spielman for another season of offensive-line doldrums. The NFL draft has not occurred. Spielman has spent more 2nd-Round-or-higher draft capital than any general manager in the league during the last three drafts. He’s not ignoring the problem. The long-term outlook for the offensive trenches will largely rest on the maturity of the aforementioned O’Neill, Bradbury, and Cleveland.
Whether it’s semi-splashy free-agent signings of two guards or a draft that plucks 2-3 offensive linemen in the first four selections, Spielman has a couple of months to actionize his offensive line vision.
For now, however, it “feels” like the team is just signing a bunch of cornerbacks.