The Minnesota Vikings haven’t returned the same five starters on its offensive line in the past seven seasons — 2021 will be no exception to the trend.
However, the void left by guard Dakota Dozier who reaches free agency this offseason could offer the opportunity for improvement. Dozier finished the 2020 season with a 44.6 Pro Football Focus position grade as the 122nd ranked guard in the league.
The situation at guard, knock on wood, couldn’t get much worse, but Minnesota has many possibilities to consider in a pivotal offseason for the team.
The first domino expected to fall that will set further plans in motion will be reaching an ultimatum with veteran left tackle Riley Reiff. Reiff carries a $16.5 million cap hit in 2021 that the Vikings cannot afford.
Speculation remains on whether 2020 second-round pick Ezra Cleveland could replace Reiff at left tackle — the position he was drafted as out of college — but a Vikings insider dispelled the possibility of that happening this season.
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Vikings Likely to Re-Sign Rashod Hill, Maintain Depth at Tackle
In a fan mailbag article published on Friday, Star Tribune reporter Andrew Krammer addressed several offseason questions. The offensive line proved to be the A-matter among fans who were curious how the offseason may impact the group.
Krammer explained that Minnesota, up against the salary cap this season, likely won’t re-sign several of their top free agents in Anthony Harris and Eric Wilson, but are more likely to reach extensions with cheaper affordable reserve players like backup left tackle Rashod Hill.
Hill has been a consistent depth piece to the Vikings offensive line, starting in 15 games from 2017-18. The Vikings could have trial run Cleveland as their future at left tackle when Reiff was forced to miss its Week 17 this past season due to COVID-19 protocols, however, Minnesota opted to stick with Hill.
Vikings Not Ready to Move Cleveland to Tackle
Playing Hill in Week 17 proved the Vikings are likely not ready to move Cleveland to left tackle and may make a strong effort to keep Reiff to maintain continuity in an offseason where Mike Zimmer has preached consistency on offense.
If Minnesota cannot agree on Reiff taking a pay cut to cut him, Hill or Oli Udoh are both potential replacements at tackle.
Cleveland may be ready to be the team’s future left tackle, however, Minnesota does not have the depth on the offensive interior to vacate Cleveland from the right guard spot.
Here’s a telling answer from Krammer:
The Vikings have a decision to make on the recent top draft pick, Ezra Cleveland, after he settled into right guard as a rookie. Should he move out to tackle, as was the team’s original plan upon drafting him? The most practical move may be keeping four starters in similar positions – with Reiff at left tackle and Cleveland at a guard spot – while plugging in a veteran or rookie addition at the other guard position. Ex-Vikings center/guard Nick Easton is a free agent after his release from New Orleans. Last year’s left guard, Dakota Dozier, is a free agent, but the Vikings aren’t expected to retain him in the same role.
As far as an under-the-radar guy, the Vikings coaching staff likes tackle Oli Udoh. He’s only played 31 snaps in his NFL career – the 2019 regular season finale. He would’ve been the backup tackle had Reiff not accepted the pay cut, and was taking first-team reps while Reiff and Hill were sidelined in camp last year. They’re much thinner on the interior.
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