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The Minnesota Vikings placed the non-exclusive tag on safety Anthony Harris minutes before the franchise tag window closed ahead of free agency on March 16.

The move was met with some raised eyebrows. Not that Harris hasn’t played to the steep price tag ($11.41 million cap hit and guaranteed salary for 2020) or that the Vikings had only used the franchise tag two other times since it was introduced in 1993.

It took quarterback Cheap Kirk Cousins Jersey agreeing to a two-year contract extension, which freed up $10 million in cap space, for Minnesota to even have the option to tag Harris — two moves that came within hours of each other.

The Vikings locked up Harris, who tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions, before eventually losing three cornerbacks (Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Xavier Rhodes, who was released). The defense also lost Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly, Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse.

The Vikings made a statement: Harris is such an important part of a defense experiencing turnover that they wanted to keep him with the hope of working out a long-term deal. Or they would trade him.

Two weeks of free agency have come and gone without any movement. The New York Giants and Cleveland Browns were among several of the serious suitors interested in Harris, according to league sources, but he remains with the Vikings.

It’s possible that the asking price is too high — what Minnesota wants in return for a trade and the salary Harris would like on a long-term deal.

Harris has leverage in that he could sign the tender and keep the Vikings on the hook for what they owe him in 2020. Minnesota, however, can exercise power of its own with the right to rescind the tag, similar to the move the Carolina Panthers pulled with Josh Norman in 2016.

Teams don’t often withdraw a franchise tag, but it would allow both sides to essentially start over. Harris would become an unrestricted free agent and the Vikings could use the money on another position of need.

The Vikings haven’t been able to find a dance partner, but a trade shouldn’t be ruled out. Minnesota has until the trade deadline in October to execute a move.

Vikings safety Anthony Harris tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions in 2019. Harrison Barden/USA TODAY Sports
If the Vikings wanted to work out a Harris trade now, the return could help address one of their bigger question marks: the offensive line. Minnesota has shown interest in acquiring Washington left tackle Trent Williams, who, through his representation, has made it clear that he wants to be traded. Washington, which signed safety Sean Davis, could address a positional need of its own by acquiring Harris to play opposite Landon Collins.

Vikings left tackle Cheap Riley Reiff Jersey has a $13.2 million cap hit for 2020. Deciding what to do with him is a problem for another day. For the sake of this argument, let’s say the Vikings keep him and move him to guard, which has been discussed the past two offseasons.

In that scenario, the Vikings and Redskins are in strong position to explore a player-for-player trade involving Harris and Williams (and potentially a draft pick from Minnesota). In freeing themselves of Harris’ $11.41 million cap hit, the Vikings would create the space needed (they currently have $12.495 million in cap space) to take on Williams’ $14.5 million cap hit in 2020 and work out a new deal with him.

But if the Vikings keep Harris, they can plan their defensive reboot without having to spend a high draft pick on a replacement for him. Building depth at safety can come in the later rounds or through the bargain bin on the free-agent market. It would likely take a first- or second-round pick to find Harris’ immediate replacement.

Either way, the clarity Minnesota could gain in the coming weeks will ultimately guide its draft strategy. Maintaining continuity in the secondary might be the Vikings’ method in mitigating some of the losses they experienced elsewhere on defense.

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EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have had four punters in the past four seasons, so it’s understandable they want some stability at that position. And it looks now as if that will happen.

Cheap Britton Colquitt Jersey, an impending free agent who had a strong 2019 season, anticipates committing to re-sign with the Vikings before other teams can make offers on Monday.

“We, my agent and my family, we believe in the Vikings,” Colquitt said in a phone interview. “They’ve made it clear, we believe, they want to make a deal before free agency.”

Colquitt said his agent, Paul Sheehy, has proposed a three-year contract, with two years guaranteed, and the Vikings are on board with the proposal. Sheehy wrote in an email Wednesday that nothing has been finalized. Colquitt and Sheehy did not provide any figures, but the proposed deal is believed to average between $2 million and $3 million per season.

“My agent came up with a deal that is not outlandish and crazy, but it also puts me in a category of what we feel like I’ve earned,” said Colquitt, 34, a 10-year veteran. “(The Vikings) haven’t given us an offer. They’ve just accepted the proposal and said, ‘You know, we think that’s a fair deal. We just have to figure out where we can make some space.’ ”

The Vikings have little salary-cap room, so they might need to create some to lock up Colquitt by Monday, when NFL teams can begin negotiating with representatives of free agents. Free agents can sign deals with other teams starting Wednesday.

Colquitt is eligible now to re-sign. He said the Vikings want to hold off on a move until they see how voting goes for a possible new collective bargaining agreement. Voting by players concludes Saturday, and a new CBA would affect the salary cap for 2020.

“Most organizations would agree they don’t want to have to worry about the punter and holder position, so if I’m bringing that stability, let’s do it,” said Colquitt, also the holder for kicker Dan Bailey. “I think we’re all on the same page and we want it to happen. If there wasn’t this tight cap, I think (re-signing) already would have been done.”

Sheehy wrote in an email that negotiations are ongoing.

“While there is clearly a mutual interest in getting a deal done, nothing has been agreed to by either side,” he wrote. “We’ve had very positive discussions and the hope is it might lead to a contract, but it is certainly premature to say anything at all has been agreed upon.”

Before Colquitt became the Vikings’ punter in 2019, the team had three in three seasons: Jeff Locke in 2016, Ryan Quigley in 2017 and Matt Wile in 2018. Colquitt has been by far the best of the lot.

Colquitt averaged 45.2 yards gross and 42.6 net per punt, and was rated the NFL’s third-best punter by Pro Football Focus. He played for the minimum salary of $930,000 after being cut at the end of the preseason by the Cleveland Browns.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was critical of Wile as a holder in 2018, when Bailey made 21 of 28 field-goal attempts. With Colquitt holding, Bailey made 27 of 29 attempts last season.

“He kind of helped turn the career around for Bailey, the placekicker,” said Colquitt’s father, Craig, a punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1978-84. “And I think he contributed well as a punter.”

The Colquitts dub themselves “The First Family of Fourth Down.” Craig won Super Bowls with the Steelers in 1978 and 1979 and Britton claimed one with Denver in 2015. The family added a fourth ring last month when Britton’s brother, punter Dustin Colquitt, won a Super Bowl with Kansas City.

“It’s kind of beyond your wildest dreams,” Britton said of the family’s rings. “We really wanted it for Dustin. Our dad can’t quit talking about it.”

Britton was among 15 family members who attended the Chiefs’ 31-20 victory over San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Three weeks earlier, the Vikings lost 27-10 to the 49ers in a divisional playoff.

“I was doing the tomahawk chop, and I was like the biggest Chiefs fan you’ve ever seen,” Britton said. “I was getting into it with San Francisco fans. Nothing bad. Just standard bantering back and forth. … When (the Chiefs) got a first down, I was going down a few rows and giving the first-down symbol. And (wife) Nikki is like, ‘You’ve got to chill out. You’re going to get in a fight with one of those 49ers fans.’ ”

No skirmishes took place. And now Dustin won’t receive any more family ribbing about not having a ring.

“It means he can relax,” Craig said with a laugh. “I hear his ring’s going to be even bigger than Britton’s. But they’ve still got to get another one (to catch me). How cool would that be if they have a repeat in Kansas City or have that happen in Minnesota?”

Britton hopes to get a ring with the Vikings. Britton, who has four children, said the family already is thinking it could be his final NFL stop.

“We’d love to stay in Minnesota and make it our home for a little while and maybe even ride out in a purple-and-gold sunset,” he said.

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With the NFL Scouting Combine in the rearview mirror, 2020 free agency is just around the corner. That period will officially begin at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 18 when the new league year begins.

Throughout the week, Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and I will continue diving into Minnesota’s current roster status by position. We’ll offer a refresher on which Vikings are scheduled to become free agents, where potential needs might be and note players from other teams that are set to become free agents.

Up next? The cornerbacks …


Cheap Kris Boyd Jersey, Cheap Mark Fields Jersey, Cheap Kemon Hall Jersey, Cheap Holton Hill Jersey,Cheap Mike Hughes Jersey, Cheap Nate Meadors Jersey, Xavier Rhodes, Cheap Marcus Sayles Jersey

2019 Stats (tackles are team stats)

Boyd: 16 games; 12 tackles (11 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup; team-high 11 special teams tackles

Fields: 1 game; no stats

Hall: spent part of 2019 on Chargers practice squad

Hill: 8 games (1 start); 12 tackles, 1 pass breakup; 3 special teams tackles

Hughes: 14 games (3 starts); 43 tackles (39 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, 11 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles; 2 special teams tackles; 7.4 yards per punt return

Meadors: 2 games; 2 tackles

Rhodes: 15 games (15 starts); 63 tackles (54 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble

Sayles (with CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers): 18 games, 64 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries; returned a punt he blocked 9 yards for a touchdown on Aug. 15 and a fumble he forced 24 yards for a score on Oct. 19

Hughes has shown considerable potential but has also suffered tough luck. A torn ACL ended Hughes’ promising rookie season and forced a grueling rehab a year ago, and an injury that he sustained in Week 17 landed him on injured reserve before the playoffs. Rhodes is not far from being named an All-Pro by the Associated Press, but his 2019 campaign was a departure from that level, causing many to speculate on his 2020 status. Hill’s second season was stunted by a pair of four-game suspensions out of the gate. Boyd, Hill’s former college teammate at Texas, showed promise in his rookie season. Fields, Hall, Meadors and Sayles will try to make the most of their opportunities this offseason to impress new position coaches.


Mackensie Alexander:

A second-round pick in 2016, Alexander is at the end of his rookie contract. He transitioned from playing on the outside at Clemson to eventually embracing the top nickel cornerback position for the Vikings, making 10 starts the past two seasons. He’s totaled 84 of his 109 career tackles and all 4.5 of his career sacks, as well as 16 of 26 passes defensed since 2018. Alexander missed three games in the 2019 regular season and both of Minnesota’s playoff games because of injuries.

Marcus Sherels:

Known more for his punt returning prowess, the reserve cornerback didn’t record any defensive stats in 2019. The season was a weird one for Sherels, to say the least. After spending the rest of the decade with the Vikings, he signed with the Saints in free agency. Sherels never played for New Orleans, who cut him on Sept. 1. Three weeks later, Sherels re-signed with Minnesota, but he was cut Oct. 22 and joined Miami. After five games with the Dolphins, he was waived in mid-December. The Vikings re-re-signed him on Jan. 3, 2020. Sherels played against the Saints in the Wild Card round. He uncharacteristically struggled the following week, committing two fumbles (one lost) on punt returns at San Francisco.

Trae Waynes:

The 11th overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, Waynes has started 53 of 74 regular-season games for the Vikings, including all 44 he’s played the past three seasons. The Vikings were able to use a club option on the first-round selection to make his rookie contract last five seasons, but it is now set to expire. Waynes has totaled 251 tackles, 1.0 sack, nine tackles for loss, seven interceptions, 51 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.


The cornerback position could experience significant changes this offseason. Numerous draft pundits project that the Vikings will invest their first-round selection in a corner to help fill potential voids. With several years of experience logged, Minnesota knows exactly what it has in cornerbacks that are set to become free agents, compared to those that might hit the market on other teams. The position is important in Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, both in pass coverage and run support. Alligator-arming a tackle, for instance, is highly discouraged.

The Vikings needs could involve a starter on the outside (if Waynes leaves), a virtual starter in the slot (if Alexander, who played more than 500 snaps in each of the past two seasons, departs) or both. Hughes has logged experience at both positions over the course of his first two seasons.

WHO’S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE:’s Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling teamed up again this year to rate their top 101 potential free agents.

The following cornerbacks are listed in order of their overall rankings, along with their 2019 teams: 8. Byron Jones (DAL), 24. Chris Harris, Jr. (DEN), 37. James Bradberry (CAR), 49. Logan Ryan (TEN), 50. Kendall Fuller (KC), 56. Trae Waynes (MIN), 58. Bradley Roby (HOU), 68. Darqueze Dennard (CIN), 70. Eli Apple (NO), 72. Ronald Darby (PHI), 83. Jimmy Smith (BAL), 90. Bashaud Breeland (KC), 91. Prince Amukamara (CHI), 92. Jalen Mills (PHI) and 96. Daryl Worley (OAK)

Other cornerbacks set to become free agents that didn’t crack the top 101 are as follows (listed in order of 2019 team): Blidi Wreh-Wilson (ATL), Levi Wallaceand Kevin Johnson (BUF), Ross Cockrell and Javien Elliott (CAR), Anthony Brown (DAL), Davontae Harris (DEN), Rashaan Melvin (DET), Tramon Williams and Chandon Sullivan* (GB), Johnathan Joseph (HOU), Morris Claiborne (KC), Michael Davis (LAC), Aqib Talib (MIA), P.J. Williams (NO), Grant Haley (NYG), Maurice Canady, Brian Poole and Arthur Maulet* (NYJ), Artie Burns and Mike Hilton* (PIT), Jason Verrett (SF), Akeem King (SEA), Tramaine Brock and LeShaun Sims (TEN), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Aaron Colvin (WAS)

  • Restricted free agent

** Exclusive rights free agent

There’s a bevy of regular-season and Super Bowl experience set to hit the market among players in the top 101 and those that didn’t crack the list. Nine of the 14 players in the top 101 have been part of at least one team that has claimed a Lombardi Trophy. Ryan was part of two Super Bowl wins in New England.

Several names in the “others” category also will ring a bell for many Vikings fans. Tramon Williams, who will turn 37 on March 16, has appeared in 199 games, including 159 with Green Bay, and recorded 34 interceptions. Johnathan Joseph, who will turn 36 in April, has played in 200 games, totaling 31 career interceptions.

Brock, a former Golden Gopher, played 11 games for the Vikings in 2017 and has started 56 of his 117 appearances.

Talib, 34, is a five-time Pro Bowler who was part of Denver’s win in Super Bowl 50. He has started 134 of 148 games and has 35 career interceptions. Rodgers-Cromartie will be 34 in April. He has recorded 30 picks and made two Pro Bowls.

Experience can come at a high premium during free agency, and the Vikings placement against the salary cap is well-documented.

If the Vikings don’t replace a departure with a veteran through free agency, it could mean they believe a young player is ready for the next step or the team likes the look of a draft-eligible player, which would allow them to allocate financials elsewhere.

Cheap Authentic Vikings DeMarquis Gates Jersey

EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings have added to their linebackers group, the team announced Wednesday.

Minnesota agreed to terms with free agent Cheap DeMarquis Gates Jersey, who most recently played for the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks.

Being that the XFL’s season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic after just five games, players from the league were allowed to sign with NFL teams. Gates’ Roughnecks ended their debut campaign as the league’s lone undefeated squad at 5-0.

Here are five things to know about the new Vikings linebacker:

  1. Making the highlight reel

Gates played a key role in the Roughnecks defense, coming up with big plays like the one below, which initially appeared to be an interception but was called a fumble recovery in the stats book. The play clinched a Houston win over Dallas.

His 32 combined tackles tied for fifth in the XFL, according to league stats. Gates also had 2.0 sacks, three quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, three passes defensed, one forced fumble, three fumble recoveries and an interception through five games.

  1. Multiple stops along the way

Gates has played for three professional football leagues.

He initially joined the Browns in 2018 as an undrafted free agent but was released. He then played for Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football. Gates led the AAF with 52 tackles and five forced fumbles through eight games before the league folded.

In April 2019, Gates signed with the Redskins but was waived in June.

  1. Rebel before a Roughneck

Gates played at Ole Miss from 2014-17, leading the Rebels in tackles each of his final three seasons.

As a senior, he became the first Ole Miss player to record more than 100 tackles since five-time All-Pro Patrick Willis accomplished the feat in 2006.

Gates’ 70 solo tackles in 2017 topped the SEC and put him at 13th-best in FBS. His 9.5 tackles per game ranked third in the conference.

  1. Georgia native

Gates hails from Hampton, Georgia, where he attended Lovejoy High School and was named a four-star recruit by, and listed him as the No. 19 outside linebacker in the country despite the fact that he missed his senior season with a torn ACL.

As a junior at Lovejoy, Gates recorded 132 tackles and was named All-Region.

Other notable names who have graduated from Lovejoy include Dolphins wide receiver Preston Williams and former running back Tashard Choice.

  1. One of three

Gates was raised by his aunt and uncle, Tia and Leon Dillard. He has two sisters and shared on Instagram that the trio of siblings is close.

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EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have agreed to terms with veteran defensive end Cheap Anthony Zettel Jersey, the team announced Wednesday.

The addition of Zettel brings experience to a young defensive line group. He has appeared in 49 regular-season games since his selection in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions in 2016.

Zettel recorded all 16 of his career starts in his second pro season with Detroit, including a monster game in Week 4 against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Zettel recorded 2.0 sacks, four quarterback hits and recovered a fumble in a 14-7 win by the Lions.

The native of West Branch, Michigan, was waived by Detroit at the start of the 2018 season and claimed by Cleveland. He played 15 games for the Browns but was waived before the 2019 season kicked off.

Photos: DE Anthony Zettel
View photos of DE Anthony Zettel who the Vikings agreed to terms with on Wednesday.

Zettel then landed in Cincinnati and played in four games for the Bengals. He signed with San Francisco prior to the 2019 regular-season finale in which the 49ers claimed the No. 1 overall seed.

Zettel played in all three of San Francisco’s postseason games, including Super Bowl LIV.

Prior to making it to the NFL, Zettel played collegiately at Penn State and turned in a First-Team All-Big Ten season in 2014, recording 17 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks and three interceptions while playing on the edge and interior of the defensive line.

Zettel finished his Nittany Lions career with 38 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, 14 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State in 2014.

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Longtime Minnesota Vikings great Everson Griffen took to social media on Friday to announce that he won’t be returning to the team in 2020. He thanked the fans for their support over the years and also acknowledged his teammates, whom he stated “were like brothers to him.”

The star defensive end has been with the team since they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Griffen will be remembered for his high energy on and off the field. He will finish his Vikings’ career with 353 tackles, 74.5 sacks and two interceptions. Griffen was one of the Vikings’ all-time great pass rushers and one of their best draft picks over the last decade.

This announcement does come as a bit of a shock. At the NFL Combine, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer expressed confidence that Griffen would be back with the team this season. They certainly would want him back for a couple of reasons. First, he played great last year. The team was able to restructure his contract last offseason and he bounced back from a dismal 2018 campaign, with 41 tackles and 8.0 sacks.

The second reason the Vikings would want him back is to provide depth.

Cheap Danielle Hunter Jersey is one of the best pass rushers in the league, and he’ll still man the left side of the Vikings’ defensive line. Cheap Ifeadi Odenigbo Jersey will in all likelihood be the right defensive end, but the depth behind him is a big question mark. With Stephen Weatherly going to Carolina and now Griffen leaving, the only player remaining on the depth chart is Cheap Eddie Yarbrough Jersey, whom the team signed off the streets during the playoffs last year. This pushes up their need at defensive end quite a bit and it is now one they’ll need to address fairly early in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Griffen was a great player on the field and a character off it. It will be hard for Vikings fans to see him in a different uniform next season, but he’ll always be remembered fondly as being one of the best edge rushers to ever put on that purple jersey.

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Soon after the Vikings signed former Titans receiver Cheap Tajae Sharpe Jersey to a one-year, $1 million contract this week, he received a phone call from offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Among the subjects of that call was how Sharpe’s familiarity with Packers coach Matt LaFleur ultimately could help him fit in Minnesota.

LaFleur’s first NFL job was as an offensive assistant in Houston from 2008-09 while Kubiak was the head coach there. His indoctrination in a system similar to the one the Vikings use continued when he worked for Mike Shanahan in Washington from 2010-13. Before becoming the Packers’ head coach in 2019, he spent a year calling plays in Tennessee, where Sharpe’s work in LaFleur’s offense gave the Vikings something of a baseline for how he’d fit under Kubiak in Minnesota.

“When I got the pleasure to talk to Coach Kubiak yesterday, we kind of spoke briefly and he was telling [me] Matt LaFleur kind of grew up under him, so some of the language may be familiar to what I’m used to hearing,” Sharpe said in a conference call Thursday. “So that’s always a good thing when you don’t have to completely start from scratch as far as learning the offense if you hear certain words and certain terms that may be familiar to you that you kind of puzzle together, that’s always a big help.”

The Vikings have five picks in the first three rounds of a draft thought to be stocked with wide receivers, so Sharpe’s addition could represent only the beginning of an effort to add to the position after trading Stefon Diggs to Buffalo last week. In the meantime, though, Sharpe gives the team a receiver with four years of NFL experience — the second most among wideouts on the roster behind Cheap Adam Thielen Jersey — and a player who’s familiar with the Vikings’ style of offense.

He becomes the second former Titan to sign with the team in as many years, following guard Josh Kline in 2019. Sharpe’s most productive year in Tennessee was his rookie season in 2016, when he caught 41 passes for 522 yards and two touchdowns. He missed all of 2017 because of a foot injury, and attributed his production decline the past two seasons to coaching staff changes that precipitated new receivers coming to Tennessee.

“Having a new head coaching staff different from what I had my rookie year, coaches like to bring in guys that they want to see come in and try to make some plays,” Sharpe said. “I understand that’s part about the business, and I’m all cool with that.

“That’s how the game goes, but like I said now, the opportunity that the Vikings presented me with, being able to come in and having a chance to compete for a starting spot and widen my role a little bit, have a larger role as a part of the offense — that was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up. I feel like this is the perfect place for me to be.”

Sharpe said he spoke with quarterback Kirk Cousins on Wednesday.

“He reached out to me, and he was excited to get things going,” Sharpe said.

Whenever the Vikings begin their offseason workout program, Sharpe will look to connect with Cousins quickly as the team tries to replace Diggs. It could give Sharpe a means to refresh his career, too.

“The opportunity that’s being presented with Diggs being traded, having kind of a void to fill at the receiver position, I felt like I had the opportunity to come in here and compete for a starting spot,” he said. “That’s all that you can ask for is the opportunity to come in and compete, to prove your worth. I feel like with Coach Kubiak and with him running the offense and the success that he’s had for all these years, I just feel like this is the best spot for me to be.”

Rhodes to Colts

Xavier Rhodes, a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback for the Vikings, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

Rhodes, 29, was released by the Vikings on March 13 to save $8.1 million of salary cap money. After making first team All-Pro in 2017, he was hampered by injuries in 2018 and had a rough 2019 season with eight penalties and a heated sideline exchange with coach Mike Zimmer during a December game in Seattle.

Nevertheless, he was a late addition to the Pro Bowl.

Jones back

The Vikings are bringing center Brett Jones back on a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum ($910,000).

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All the scouting reports were similar. When the Minnesota Vikings selected Pittsburgh offensive tackle Brian O’Neill with the 62nd overall pick earlier this spring, they knew they were gaining one of the most athletic linemen in the draft whose upside appeared limitless.

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His measureables were off the charts: 98th percentile in the 40-yard dash, 98th percentile in the 3-cone drill, 91st percentile in the 20-yard shuttle run. O’Neill’s 4.82-second 40 time was the fastest among all offensive linemen at the NFL scouting combine. He even tied the time of (an albeit slow) quarterback Jared Goff of the Rams from two years prior.

As the uncertainty surrounding Minnesota’s offensive line mounts throughout the offseason, questions are often raised about the likelihood that the 6-foot-7, 297-pound O’Neill will be ready to take over at right tackle this season if needed.

Everyone from general manager Rick Spielman to coach Mike Zimmer to O’Neill himself has said the same thing: The rookie needs to get stronger if he’s going to play tackle in the NFL. Handling speed off the edge has long been one of O’Neill’s strong suits. Doing it against elite edge rushers will require greater strength.

Just over a month into his tenure as a Viking, O’Neill is starting to notice his body changing as he gets into an NFL strength, conditioning and nutrition program. O’Neill said he hopes to be around 305 pounds by the end of spring workouts. In the coming months, that number may increase.
The Vikings like Brian O’Neill’s athletic ability but believe he has to get stronger to play offensive tackle in the NFL. Jim Mone/AP Photo
It may sound like fun, but adding mass to one’s frame in a short amount of time doesn’t boil down to a quick fix of binging on pizza and chips every night. Putting on healthy weight while learning an NFL playbook is no cakewalk.

The good news for Minnesota? This isn’t O’Neill’s first time having to transform his mind and body to meet the demands of playing tackle. And having to do so quickly.

O’Neill hasn’t played tackle that long. He excelled as a tight end (33 receptions for 614 yards and eight touchdowns) and as a defensive end (45 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles) as a senior in high school. He was rated the fifth-best tight end prospect from his native Delaware when Pitt recruited him.

O’Neill, who weighed 235 pounds when he started college, redshirted in 2014. He moved to tackle before the 2015 season. An offseason injury to former Panthers tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith left Pitt scrambling to find help for their offensive line. O’Neill, a big, blocking tight end who occasionally went out for a pass, was the perfect candidate to fill the void.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi had little doubt that O’Neill could seamlessly make the transition. Less than three years before O’Neill would be drafted in the second round, Narduzzi foreshadowed just how far his ceiling would rise by moving inside.

“We talked about how many first-round draft choice tight ends there were compared to offensive tackles and where he had the ability to be a part of that,” Narduzzi said. “I think that’s something that played into the whole puzzle there.”

But this wasn’t Narduzzi’s decision to make.

“I didn’t tell him he had to move to tackle,” he said. “Just because a guy got hurt doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice everything you’ve worked for and wanted your entire life. I told him to take a day or two to decide, but if you make that move you have to be all in and want to do it.”

Narduzzi’s phone rang the next day. O’Neill was ready to make the switch. Time was of the essence.
Brian O’Neill was 235 pounds when he entered college in 2014 and moved to tackle before the 2015 season at Pitt. Courtesy of Pitt Athletics
‘See food, eat food’

Six weeks stood between O’Neill and the start of training camp ahead of the 2015 season. Once he decided to change positions, he immediately started to work on changing his body.

From late June until early August 2015, O’Neill went from what he called a “skin and bones” 250 pounds to 285 pounds. Doing so required an immense buy-in from O’Neill at the guiding hand of Pitt head strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews.

While working at the University of Cincinnati earlier in his career, Andrews aided Jason Kelce’s transformation from a 230-pound walk-on linebacker to a 280-pound center by the time he left college. Like O’Neill, the Super Bowl champion Kelce ran the fastest 40-yard dash among all offensive linemen at the combine in 2011.

Andrews had about a month-and-a-half to install a system for O’Neill to gain upwards of 35 pounds so he could hold his anchor on the offensive line. In theory, the plan was simple: There was no set number of calories O’Neill had to consume each day nor specific foods he needed to prioritize over others. All that mattered was that the tackle was putting enough in his body to gain weight. If the scale wasn’t moving upwards, he needed to eat more.

“I called it the ‘see food diet,'” Andrews said. “He’s like, ‘I don’t like seafood.’ I said, ‘No, you’re going to see food and eat it.'”

Playing the calorie game became a full-time job for O’Neill that summer. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were an important staple in his diet, in which he didn’t allow himself to go more than 30 minutes without eating and often set his alarm for a 3 a.m. middle-of-the-night snack.

“It made for some fun 100-degree camp practices in Pittsburgh when you’re putting that many calories in your body,” O’Neill joked.
Brian O’Neill played tight end and defensive end in high school before going to Pitt. Courtesy of Pitt Athletics
Gaining weight might have been the easiest part of his transition. Keeping that weight on with the demands of training camp was difficult.

“It takes an awful lot of discipline,” Andrews said. “We did daily and weekly weigh-ins. Body weight is an attitude as well. I’d tell him I want to see him up a pound tomorrow, regardless of whether it was water weight or true fat gain, true muscle gain. At that point, I just wanted to see something change on the scale. You’re talking about a 35-pound difference in a six-week period. That’s about a pound a day. Not all good weight, but the main emphasis was to get him to a point where he could anchor down at 285.”

In gaining a large amount of mass, coaches never saw O’Neill lose his athletic edge. Andrews’ plan for the weight room was to put his foot on the pedal and develop as much “absolute strength” as possible. Those six weeks were about helping O’Neill reach the strength needed to play tackle. Refining that strength came later.

“Basically we went into it with nothing to lose,” Andrews said. “Any time you have a young man that is gaining weight, it’s very easy to get them a little bit stronger. … I stressed him to the point where we could check metrics by vertical leap just to make sure we weren’t overtraining the young man.”

To the delight of his coaches, the opposite happened. Possibly the most noteworthy part of his transition can be traced back to one critical measureable.

At 250 pounds, O’Neill reached a 28.5 inch vertical. Some 47 pounds heavier at the combine, he jumped 29.5 inches.

“He is definitely one of the elite guys who you will see test that way,” Andrews said. “With a 40- to 50-pound gain, his performance numbers didn’t change. That’s a testament to what this kid has done, how he’s gone about his recovery and how he’s gone about preparing.”

‘Just touching the surface’

Getting through training camp that season was a major hurdle crossed for O’Neill. Then came his biggest test: putting it all together on the field.

“The first couple of games things were flying fast and you can only prepare for so many different looks,” O’Neill said. “Once you kind of get an eye for everything conceptually in terms of play structure and why we do things it comes quicker.”

O’Neill mastered how to adapt to his new position while managing the changes that came under four different offensive coordinators during his career at Pitt. Going from a pro-set offense to a system that mixed in spread and power concepts provided O’Neill an opportunity to learn a variety of blocking schemes. His athleticism is what makes him such an intriguing addition to the Vikings’ outside zone-blocking scheme predicated on movement and the ability of its linemen to get to the second level.
Putting on healthy weight while learning the playbook is no cakewalk, but Brian O’Neill — the Vikings’ second-round pick — has been here before. Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire
From 2015 to 2017, O’Neill notched 37 starts at tackle. In 817 snaps during his redshirt junior season, he allowed one sack, two QB hits and six hurries. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 98.3 in pass-block efficiency, the third highest among draft-eligible tackles.

As the Vikings work toward wrapping up their spring offseason program, O’Neill is fully immersed in his next transition from a college to professional offensive tackle. The physical difference between the rookie and his right tackle counterparts Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill is understandably noticeable. O’Neill aims to stay on the level of his teammates in terms of the knowledge and skill to play the position.
“At offensive tackle that is the biggest difference, if you don’t do your job the play is over,” he said. “And especially left tackle and even right tackle, protecting the quarterback is the No. 1 priority, at least for an offensive lineman. Being able to do your techniques consistently every time, that’s kind of the biggest difference because you might be able to get away with some stuff at tight end. At least I did when I played. At tackle, you’re out there on an island.”

Whether O’Neill will be ready to step in as a rookie will be determined by how quickly he picks up the playbook and the rate at which his body responds to an intense next few months. Having gone through such an extreme transition three years ago set him up for his current situation. Now it’s time to take the next step.

“I think he’s just touching the surface,” Narduzzi said. “He’s still a tight end playing tackle and his best years are ahead of him, for sure.”