Vikings Move With $55 Million Pro Bowler Raises Eyebrows

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

Courtesy of Vikings The Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

The Minnesota Vikings made a long-awaited move, restructuring Pro Bowl left tackle Brian O’Neill‘s contract ahead of the 2023 season.

ESPN’s Field Yates reported on September 12 that the Vikings restructured O’Neill’s contract on Saturday before the season opener, creating $9.99 million in cap space. Including Josh Metellus‘ extension that he signed last week, the Vikings have $13.4 million in cap space, per Over The Cap.

What those funds will be used for remains a mystery as fans and pundits alike have speculated the possibilities.

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert noted that “the Vikings were down to the wire on the Justin Jefferson negotiations at the time,” suggesting the move may have been a final effort to create as much potential cap space upfront for Jefferson’s extension. No deal was reached as it appears Jefferson will play out the 2023 season on his current contract.

Another possibility is the acquisition of free-agent guard Dalton Risner, who visited the Vikings in the offseason and has recently expressed his interest again with fans on X (formerly Twitter).

What Minnesota does with the new cap space created by O’Neill’s contract will likely unfold in the coming days, but it could also be funds they’ll hold onto until the trade deadline.

O’Neill’s cap hit for the 2023 season is now $9.67 million after it was previously $19.41 million before the restructure.

 Vikings Offensive Line Could Benefit From Dalton Risner

Last Sunday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a reminder of the shortcomings of the Vikings’ offensive interior line.

Minnesota opted to keep its entire starting offensive front intact, banking on continuity to carry the group to more success in 2023. However, this is the same group that allowed Kirk Cousins to take the most hits of any quarterback in the league.

On Sunday, the offensive line allowed five quarterback hits and 12 pressures. Right guard Ed Ingram, who allowed the most pressures in the league last season, posted a 40.3 Pro Football Focus (PFF) pass-blocking grade that ranked 58th among guards who played in Week 1. He allowed a sack, a quarterback hit and two hurries for four pressures total.

Left guard Ezra Cleveland fared well, allowing just one hurry across 48 pass-blocking snaps for an 84.8 pass-blocking grade.

Meanwhile, Austin Schlottman, who replaced Garrett Bradbury (lower-back injury) early in the game, allowed two hurries on 43 pass-blocking snaps for a 66.9 pass-blocking grade.

According to ESPN, Tampa Bay blitzed the second-highest rate (42.6%) in the league in Week 1 (behind on the Vikings at 47.2%). Minnesota did itself no favors by abandoning the run game in the second half, as the offensive front was backpedaling and outmanned often.

Risner would still bring a significant boost to the offensive line room. In 2022, he allowed only 29 pressures across 967 snaps with the Denver Broncos. A 2019 second-round pick, Risner started all four seasons in Denver, missing just four of 66 games in that span. He earned his second consecutive pass-blocking grade above 70.0 and ranked 22nd among guards in true pass sets last season.

 Kirk Cousins Was at His Best Against the Blitz vs. Buccaneers

Despite committing three turnovers, including a fumble on a strip sack where Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was uncovered on a blitz, Cousins played well against the blitz on Sunday.

He completed 19-of-23 pass attempts for 180 yards and a touchdown for a 113.8 passer rating.

Roughly half of the Buccaneers’ blitzes produced pressure, but Cousins showed some awareness when being blitzed to get the ball out quickly and on target.

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