The Vikings offensive line might be in for a shake-up. Per reports, Dalton Risner, the top available free agent offensive lineman, is visiting the Vikings today.
OL Dalton Risner is in Minnesota visiting the #Vikings today, a source told The Athletic. @mikeklis & @JFowlerESPN were on it yesterday. Risner does have close relationships with OL coach Chris Kuper and assistant OL coach Justin Rascati. Both worked with Risner in Denver.
— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) August 1, 2023
This move comes as a bit of a surprise for a Vikings team with an established offensive line. Contrary to many a fan’s belief, the offensive line was not as rickety in 2022 as in previous years. The unit ranked 13th on PFFs year-end ranking and Mike Clay recently included the Vikings offensive line at no. 7 on his 2023 offensive line ranking.
2023 NFL Offensive Line Unit Ranks and potential starters.
The Eagles remain elite…and the 49ers surprisingly low (Trent is a stud, but the rest of the line doesn't quite stack up) pic.twitter.com/tOibRAbK6Q
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) May 12, 2023
However, it would be journalistic malpractice to suggest the offensive line is without faults. These rankings are bolstered in large part by Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw. Risner has the pedigree and experience to elevate the interior of the line. His addition would be a splash move for a team suddenly free of a Danielle Hunter hold-out and would have some dramatic effects on the offense. Here are just a few of them.
No More Continuity
Remember when the Mayan calendar said the world was going to end? Yeah, that was the last time the Vikings had year-to-year offensive line continuity. This season was supposed change that and be the first returning front unit since 2012. A Risner signing would likely alter those plans. While it could be for the better in the long run, it’s worth noting that even an upgrade would continue the team’s game of musical chairs from hell at the guard position.
Ezra Cleveland Trade
If Risner were to join the unit, someone is unfortunately losing their job. While some fans may point to Ed Ingram’s impression of a human turnstile last season as grounds for Risner to play right guard, Ezra Cleveland may actually be the more likely candidate. To start, Risner has predominately played left guard throughout his career and shifting sides of the line isn’t an easy adjustment.
Secondly, Cleveland is in the last year of his rookie contract. While he is not a top-tier offensive lineman, Cleveland has been a serviceable starter and even superb in his run-blocking. He will certainly be looking for a raise and could get one on the open market. With Cousins’ dead money pushed into the future and Jefferson, Hockenson and Darrisaw extensions on the horizon it’s unlikely the Vikings would be willing to spend big to keep Cleveland around – especially since he wasn’t drafted by the current regime. A Risner signing would offer a perfect opportunity for the Vikings to trade Cleveland to a lineman-needy team and gain draft capital from a player that is likely to walk after the season.
A Shift in Perspective
Vikings offenses have been committed to the run game for over a decade and their offensive lines were sculpted to match. Interior offensive lineman like Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradberry, Dakota Dozier and Pat Elflein were selected for their agility and run blocking prowess, often with the knowledge that they would struggle in pass protection. Signing Dalton Risner would signal a change in that narrative. Risner excels in pass protection. He finished the season with a 72.6 pass blocking grade from PFF and only allowed 29 pressures last season. For comparison, Cleveland had a 53.2 pass blocking grade and 53 pressures allowed while Ingram had a 44.4 pass blocking grade and 58 pressures allowed.
That said, Risner is average at best in run blocking, only registering a 53.4 grade. Signing Risner would be a conscious decision by Vikings management and the coaching staff to sacrifice the run game to improve pass protection. This would not only be shift in perspective from previous offenses but would be another example of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell making their own mark on the franchise.