The Minnesota Vikings have finally made a serious investment in the future of their offensive line.
After years of putting together patchwork lineups with journeymen veterans, the Vikings signed right tackle Brian O’Neill to a five-year, $92.5 million contract extension on Wednesday, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
O’Neill, a 2018 second-round pick, becomes the second-highest-paid right tackle in the league under his new deal. He’s also the first lineman drafted by the Vikings to see an extension on top of their rookie contract since 2014.
O’Neill’s contract extension was high on the offseason to-do list. O’Neill, 25, expressed his desire to stay with the Vikings for the entirety of his career and added that he was never worried about the contract negotiations.
“The certain point was earlier this offseason when I said I want to be here no matter what,” O’Neill said. “I’ve known that for a long time, just the people we have in this building and everyone around here. I just want to be a part of it, and I’m happy to be a part of it. There was never really a doubt whether something was going to work or not in my mind. This is where I want to be. I want to be a Viking for my whole career.”
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O’Neill’s Deal Could be the 1st of Many for Vikings Linemen
O’Neill’s signing on Wednesday essentially reset the right tackle market, which has seen a spike in value as players at the position have begun to see contracts similar to left tackles.
First-round rookie Christian Darrisaw, who figures to be the team’s left tackle of the future, will help offset the cost on the offensive line while playing on a rookie contract for at least the next four seasons.
Entering the preseason, the Vikings ranked 30th in spending on the offensive line and are still in the bottom five following O’Neill’s extension.
The Vikings’ starting offensive line will be entirely made of linemen the team drafted in the past four years. If the group, which is one of the youngest in the NFL, continues to gel, there may be more opportunities for future linemen like third-year center Garrett Bradbury and second-year guard Ezra Cleveland to see extensions with the team.
“Other linemen that come up on the team behind me can see that there’s an opportunity for a lot of other guys to have this kind of future with the team,” said O’Neill, who is the eldest starting offensive lineman after Riley Reiff was released this past offseason.
“I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this. I love being here. I love being in the locker room with these guys. Being a part of the organization and getting to play for this team it’s a privilege. I’m just happy to be able to keep doing it,” O’Neill added.
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‘The Chip Gets Bigger’
While O’Neill struck a serious payday, he attested his job is far from finished.
“It means a lot because (Vikings ownership) believe in me, but at the same time, it means I gotta go prove it,” O’Neill said. “They believe in me just like they did four years ago, but it’s time to prove them right again. The chip gets bigger.”
O’Neill started in 42 straight games since taking the starting reigns midway through the 2018 season. Each season, he has improved his play, progressing from a 63.0 position grade by Pro Football Focus (PFF) in 2018 to 70.8 in 2019 and 78.0 in 2020.
He was the lone bright spot on the offensive line last season, finishing the 2020 season as the 11th ranked right tackle overall. He ranked 17th among right tackles in pass protection and eighth in run-blocking, per PFF.