Vikings’ Most Irreplaceable Free Agent Revealed Amid Possible Exodus in 2022

Brian O'Neill

Getty Brian O'Neill signed a massive five-year contract extension with the Vikings on Wednesday, Sept. 8.

The Minnesota Vikings have big decisions to make by next offseason.

After loading up on veteran talent to fortify its struggling defense from 2020, the Vikings have a bevy of expected starters reaching free agency in 2022.

Minnesota has pushed all its chips in this season and will determine the next steps for the franchise and its many players in the final years of their deals throughout the year.

However, right tackle Brian O’Neill, who warrants a pricey contract extension, is the player the Vikings “cannot afford to lose,” Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon asserts.

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‘They’d Be Silly to Let O’Neill Get Away’

Gagnon’s appraisal of Minnesota’s 2022 expected free-agency list placed O’Neill at the top of the list despite some cap worries for the team next offseason.

Here’s what he wrote:

The Minnesota Vikings are not on track to possess much salary-cap space next offseason (what’s new?), which could make things tricky when it comes to deciding what to do with impending 2022 free agents Brian O’Neill, Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr.

Who should take priority? We’ll go with O’Neill, who has arguably emerged as the team’s best offensive lineman and is four years younger than [Barr] and seven years younger than Smith.

The offensive line has been an issue for the Vikings for quite some time. They’d be silly to let a talented, young second-round pick get away at the tackle position.

O’Neill, a 2018 second-round pick out of Pitt, is the Vikings’ longest-tenured starting offensive lineman after Riley Reiff was released in March. O’Neill was graded the 10th best run-blocking tackle and 24th overall by Pro Football Focus last year.

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Revamped Vikings Could Blow Up by Next Spring

Minnesota revamped its struggling defense by signing six free-agent veteran defenders this offseason — five of which are on single-year deals.

Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Mackenzie Alexander and safety Xavier Woods are all cemented starters this season after signing one-year contracts. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and linebacker Nick Vigil figure to be productive rotational pieces on the defense — also on one-year deals.

The flashy additions to the defense have a year to prove their worth, and a pair of pricey contracts could corner Minnesota into parting ways with several of these players.

Kirk Cousins carries a $45 million cap hit in 2022, which ranks highest among all QBs. Under the terms of his restructured contract, Danielle Hunter is due an $18 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2022 league year, carrying a $26.1 million cap hit, per Over The Cap.

Minnesota will likely want to re-enter negotiations on extending Hunter and spreading his roster bonus across a new contract at the end of the season. On the other hand, Cousins said he is content playing out his contract and hasn’t indicated that he would restructure or extend his current deal.

Those two deals are likely to prove costly for the Vikings, who also have Anthony Barr, who the Vikings’ voided the final two years of his contract in March, and Harrison Smith in the final year of their deals.

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