Russell Okung is the Key to the 2017 Season…

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Those of you who have been readers here at purplePTSD.com for awhile know that I’m well versed in hyperbolic reactions and language. With that, we have the title to this piece which may seem like it’s just an overreaction to the news that the Vikings are interested in former Seattle Seahawk and Denver Bronco (and former self employed agent, apparently) Russell Okung. But, really, he’s the perfect solution to a situation that the Vikings have been trying to rectify since 2012.

That was the year that the Vikings had the highest draft pick in recent team history (That could’ve been higher, if not for Joe Webb and the Chicago Bears… Sigh, we could’ve had Andrew Luck…Also, props to /u/Mrbeankc for the correction…) and spent it on the “Sure thing” that was Matt Kalil at left tackle, out of USC. Kalil was a man among boys in college, and looked like the safest bet at the fourth spot. He quickly validated the trust that the team put in him his rookie season, where he emerged as one of the best young tackles in the league and even made the Pro Bowl. Since, however, he’s been mediocre at best and terrible at worst. Yes, he’s had to play through a lot of injuries and even a bout of pneumonia that dropped his playing weight by over 20 pounds, but that’s more of a negative than some sort of justification, especially after last season.

Kalil defenders pointed to his improved play after a disastrous sophomore campaign. However, he’s really only been mediocre at best while also getting burned at least once a game for a sack, sometimes in really, really important situations (Denver and Arizona in 2015… I know, one of those wasn’t his fault, but I can’t remember which so I’ll just toss up both… #Journalism!). Last season he wasn’t a factor, at all, due to a hip injury (A really bad injury for an offensive lineman) while still getting paid a league leading < $11 million dollars. Ugh. What a mess…

For most of this off-season it looked like the Vikings were stuck with Kalil. purplePTSD.com Writer AJ Mansour discussed this in a series of articles a week or so ago. However, when the Broncos surprisingly cut Russell Okung, things changed drastically. Sure, Okung had a down year in Denver after negotiating his own deal after leaving the Seattle Seahawks and decimating their offensive line in the process. But, he’s still a top five tackle, he’s still young and he’s still much, much better than Matt Kalil. He’s also going to end up costing about the same as Kalil would, thanks to the premium that the league puts on left tackles. So, it seems like a no-brainer for the Vikings and really, for Okung.

With Okung at left tackle the offensive line suddenly becomes an asset (On paper). Okung playing next to left guard Alex Boone? The idea of it makes me salivate (More than usual). Then you have Nick Easton at center and Joe Berger filling it at right guard, leaving only the right tackle position open for competition or a draft pick. I’d take that line ALL DAY. Speaking of All-Day, or AD, with Peterson gone the Vikings also need to draft a replacement running back in April’s draft. With Okung on-board, the Vikings wouldn’t need to focus on the offensive line as much in the draft, which would be extremely helpful considering they lack a first round pick.

I’ve received some feedback on this piece and decided to add another paragraph explaining my point of view a bit more (Yay, internet! And by internet, I mean Reddit). There seems to be this notion that Okung is A) Going to cost more than Kalil and thus restrict the Vikings ability to add another top tier offensive lineman and B) That Okung is essentially as good as Kalil, anyway. Now, Okung did have a down year last season, clearly, he wouldn’t be available if he played fantastically (Even though many were shocked when he was released). He cleared $8 million (At least against the cap) last season while Matt Kalil cleared $11 million (Again, making him the highest paid left tackle in the league). Okung will probably cost less than Kalil, or around the same, so the Vikings will be able to make the same amount of moves regardless of whether or not they snag Okung or Kalil.

Secondly, Okung is objectively a better player than Kalil. Sure, he’s a bit older (At 29), but he’s still in his physical prime. Yes, he has had some injuries as well, but when he has been healthy he’s been considered a top five tackle in the league. He’s actually gotten healthier as the years have gone by. While last year was a down year for him, I really think that there’s no reason why a 29 year old Pro Bowler who was arguably an All-Pro in 2012 (Pro-Football-Reference.com claims he was a first team All-Pro at some point, but I don’t know if I trust that…). Whether or not Kalil is even the same player that he was before, due to his hip injury, the fact remains that he’s essentially a mediocre at best left tackle that is known for getting blown by at least once a game. Okung was part of a great offensive line in Seattle and I do believe that if/when he’s paired next to Alex Boone, great things will happen. Also, again, he’s going to be a lot cheaper than Kalil, I believe, as he really only asked for about $5 million from the Bronco’s last season, which would allow the Vikings to keep their offensive line costs low, at least initially, and retain about $33-$35 million to go after a right guard or tackle in free agency (There are a few names out there that are super intriguing and might be pretty costly, but definitely worth it…).

Regardless, the Vikings know that they needed to find a replacement for Kalil at some point. It was assumed, by me, that they’d draft a replacement with their first overall (Second round) pick this season. With Okung on board, however, that plan changes and it opens up the possibility of Spielman going after one of the top running back’s on his board. Not to mention what an improved offensive line would do for Sam Bradford and company, and any rookie running back. The word after the 2016 season essentially was that the Vikings were an offensive line away from being a contender. I believe that adding Okung would immediately solve a lot of problems that the team does have, and considering the cost and the cap room they’ve recently acquired, it has to happen.

I’m all in on this move, clearly. So, make it happen, Spielman! Bring Okung into town, wine and dine him at Manny’s. Seal the deal and get the Vikings fans hype meter up into the red at the same time. It has to happen.

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