November 16th, 2016 at 10:11am CST by Zachary Links
The Vikings’ offensive line has been ravaged by injuries this season. After losing Matt Kalil and Andre Smith early on, the Vikings lost fill-in Jake Long last week, leaving them with the tackle combo of Jeremiah Sirles and T.J. Clemmings. Out-of-house options are limited now that the trade deadline is over and it doesn’t sound like the Vikings will be able to pull two recent retirees off of the couch, either. Eugene Monroe and Phil Loadholt are not interested in playing for the Vikings or any other team this year, according to Tom Pelissero of USA Today Sports (Twitterlinks).
“No, I don’t care if it was the Vikings or whoever, I won’t be playing ball again,” Monroe said.
Monroe made headlines this offseason for his vocal pro-marijuana stance. After making the media rounds for his cause, he was released by the Ravens, but the team insisted that he was not cut for his activism. Teams like the Giants, 49ers, and Seahawks came calling for Monroe, but the 6-foot-5, 310-pounder turned down every overture as he feared for his health.
“I’m only 29 and I still have the physical ability to play at a very high level, so I know that my decision to retire may be puzzling to some. But I am thinking of my family first right now — and my health and my future,” Monroe wrote in July. “The last 18 years have been full of traumatic injuries to both my head and my body. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. Has the damage to my brain already been done? Do I have CTE? I hope I don’t, but over 90% of the brains of former NFL players that have been examined showed signs of the disease. I am terrified.”
This spring, the Vikings pushed Loadholt to take a pay cut, but he opted to retire instead. There were conflicting reports as to why the veteran walked away with some saying that he didn’t want to accept a salary reduction and others citing an injury while working out. In any case, Loadholt is apparently comfortable in retirement.
Earlier this week, Vikings offensive lineman Phil Loadholtannounced his retirement from football. While Loadholt cited his health as the driving factor in his decision, Mike Florio of PFT wonders if the veteran’s recent pay cut was an even greater motivation to walk away from the sport. This spring, the Vikings pushed Loadholt to amend his ~$5.5MM base salary to a $2MM base for 2016 with up to $3.5MM in incentives. Ultimately, Loadholt may have opted for early retirement rather than playing for a reduced salary this season.
Here’s more from the NFC North:
Or, maybe Loadholt did retire because of injuries. The lineman had a setback two weeks ago while working out in Houston, Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press (on Twitter) hears. The leg issue, which was unrelated to his troublesome Achilles tendon, would have sidelined him during training camp.
Vikings offensive lineman Phil Loadholt has informed the team of his plans to retire. Loadholt has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons so while news of his retirement is somewhat surprising, it does not come as a shock. On Monday afternoon, the Vikings issued a press release confirming the news:
“I first want to thank the Wilf Family for the wonderful opportunity they gave me seven years ago. There’s a lot of people to thank – Rick Spielman, Rob Brzezinski, George Paton, Scott Studwell and all the personnel people. My head coaches – Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier and Mike Zimmer. My position coaches – Pat Morris, Jim Hueber, Jeff Davidson, and Tony Sparano. The entire Vikings support staff and most important – the Vikings fans and my teammates. This chapter in my life is closing and I look forward to seeing what the next one brings. I’ll always love this game and the opportunity to do something I dreamed about since I was seven years old. But, my body is telling me it’s time to hang up my cleats.”
Loadholt, 30, was placed on IR in each of the previous two seasons, playing in just 11 total games. In 2014, a torn pectoral ended his season after 11 games. In 2015, he tore his Achilles’ tendon, ending his season before it could even begin.
Back in March, Loadholt accepted a pay cut in order to stay with the Vikings. The new deal was supposed to give the tackle a $2MM base in 2016 with up to $3.5MM through incentives, demonstrating that Loadholt was willing to bet on himself after a year away from live action. Before the two major injuries, Loadholt missed only one game from 2009-13. Loadholt suited up for 15 contests in 2013 and graded out as a top-five tackle by Pro Football Focus’ standards.
Loadholt now retires after playing six seasons in the NFL, all of which were spent with the Vikings. In total, Loadholt appeared in 89 games and started every single one. We here at PFR wish Loadholt nothing but the best in retirement.
Loadholt’s retirement was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Vikings’ 2015 offensive line was, in a word, lackluster. Minnesota gave up 45 sacks, eighth-most in the league, and ranked 29th in adjusted sack rate. The unit was more successful in the run game, earning the No. 10 spot in Football Outsiders’ rankings — but even FO admits that its offensive line metrics are heavily influenced by the quality of the team’s running back, and Adrian Peterson certainly gave his front five a leg up.
But that poor overall performance overlooks the fact that the Vikings had several surprising contributors among their top five lineman. Mike Harris, thrust into a starting role for the first time in his career, played exceptionally well, helping lock down the right side while seeing action at guard after primarily playing tackle in past seasons. Joe Berger, a 34-year-old reserve who had started more than 10 games only once in his career, was even better, grading out as the second-best center in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Neither Harris nor Berger is projected to enter the upcoming season as a starter, however, as Minnesota’s line will undergo a series of changes. Berger is likely to be usurped by John Sullivan, who missed the entire 2015 campaign after undergoing a lumbar microdiscectomy. Sullivan, 30, was a full-time starter for the Vikings from 2009-14, and was consistently viewed as one of the elite pivots in the league, ranking eighth in approximate value during that period.
Harris, meanwhile, will head back to the bench as Brandon Fusco moves from left to right guard, paving the way for free agent signee Alex Boone to take over on the left side. Fusco wasn’t very effective last year, but he’s been much more productive at right guard during his NFL stint, so perhaps the move back will do him good. Boone, meanwhile, is locked in as a starter after inking a four-year, $26.8MM deal in the offseason.
The Vikings didn’t stop after adding Boone, though, and subsequently signed former Bengals tackle Andre Smith to a one-year pact. Minnesota now ranks first in offensive line spending among all NFL clubs, ahead of other team such as the Raiders, Eagles, and Dolphins. Here’s a look at the top names on the Vikes’ offensive line depth chart, sorted by 2016 cap figure:
So with Boone, Sullivan, and Fusco manning the interior — and fending off competition from Berger and/or Harris — our attention turns to the outside, which is perhaps the most interesting subset of Minnesota’s offensive line. Matt Kalil‘s struggles have been well-documented, and he’s never returned to the heights he exhibited during his rookie season. The Vikings somewhat surprisingly exercised his 2016 fifth-year option, and his $11.096MM base salary for this year is now guaranteed.
At right tackle, Smith, who is protected by a $1MM guarantee, will compete with longtime Viking Phil Loadholt. The 30-year-old Loadholt has been an elite option on the right side when healthy, but he missed the tail of end of the 2014 campaign with a torn pectoral, and was sidelined for the entire 2015 season after tearing his Achilles. As such, many observers — including Ben Goessling of ESPN.com — have given the edge to Smith in this position battle.
Loadholt reworked his contract earlier this year, reducing his base salary to $2MM while not adding any guarantees, in the hopes of “betting on himself.” There’s likely only room for either Loadholt or Smith on the roster, as neither offers much versatility, and given that Smith has that $1MM guarantee in his back pocket, he is likely the favorite. Loadholt and his camp, however, expect him to venture into a strong market if he does enter free agency, a source tells PFR (Twitter link).
The makeup of this offensive line could realistically go any number of ways over the next few months, and how the front five shakes out could have free agent implications. If Berger mounts an attempt to hold onto the starting center position, is it possible Sullivan is released, especially given that he has no guaranteed money remaining and very little in the way of a prorated bonus? Or could the Vikings decide to go with Harris/Berger at right guard and clear out Fusco’s $3MM+ base salary?
We haven’t even discussed how the Vikings’ front five might change after 2016, when much of the offensive line is projected to hit free agency — but that’s a topic for another day. Suffice it to say: a solid player is going to emerge from this group and hit the free agent market at some point before September, and although Loadholt looks like he’ll be the odd man out, other scenarios could certainly come into play.
Jaguars fans everywhere were scared earlier this offseason, when reports indicated that fifth overall selection Jalen Ramsey would require a knee operation — having already dealt with losing 2015 third overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. to an ACL tear, Jacksonville held its collective breath awaiting further updates on Ramsey. Luckily, Ramsey is now expected to return by training camp, a sentiment that Ramsey himself confirmed today, telling Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times Union (Twitterlinks) that he isn’t experiencing any physical limitations. Ramsey, who is expected to play cornerback in Gus Bradley’s defense, says he felt comfortable with the Jaguars’ defensive scheme throughout the draft process, and feels even more locked in now that he’s continued to learn.
Here’s more from around the NFL:
Entering the final year of his contract, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders seemingly isn’t worried about his ongoing contract negotiations with the Broncos, as he explains to Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. “I don’t think it weighs on me,” said Sanders. “I think it weighs on other people and then they talk about and it’s like, ‘All right, you’re trying to put the weight on me.’ If I could just keep my ears closed and not listen to the noise, I wouldn’t even know this is a contract year.” Sanders reportedly exchanged contract figures with Denver management last week.
Locker room issues apparently played a part in Dominique Easley‘s release from the Patriots earlier this year, and former first-round pick doesn’t sound all that interested in changing that perception now that he’s joined the Rams. “I wouldn’t say it’s (among) my main goals, because (being a great person is) just who I am,” Easley said of his rumored off-field problems on SiriusXM NFL Radio (Facebook link). “But, yeah, there’s been obviously stuff said about me. I mean, we don’t know where it came from. Obviously, the person doesn’t want to come out and say it, either.”
Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler is reportedly aiming for a new contract prior to the 2016 season, but as Joel Corry of CBSSports.com details (Twitter links: 1, 2, 3, 4), Butler might not have a leg to stand on in negotiations. As a former undrafted free agent, Butler isn’t in line to reach unrestricted free agency until after the 2017 season — rather, he’ll only be a restricted free agent in 2017, in line for a first-round tender at a tad under $4MM. Linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, however, will be UFAs next March, and are thus likely to be higher priorities. The best-case scenario for Butler, per Corry, might be a contract in line with Bengals linebacker — and fellow former UDFA — Vontaze Burfict, who sacrificed two unrestricted years at market value while tacitly accepting that he would be hit with a restricted tender.
Let’s take a look at more news and notes from around the NFL on this Memorial Day weekend…
More on the Vikings, as Ben Goessling of ESPN.com answers several questions in his latest mailbag, including one on a scenario involving wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. If Patterson were to post a decent season, thriving in both the passing game and on special teams, he’d make for an interesting extension candidate, granted that he was interested in remaining in Minnesota. Of course, as Goessling notes, the entire scenario is merely hypothetical, and Patterson doesn’t seem likely to break out in his fourth NFL season, especially given the addition of Laquon Treadwell in the first round.
After agreeing to a one-year extension that locks him up through the 2016 season, Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth says he’s not worried about playing out the final year of his deal. “If I go into the season pretty much with the thought that I’ll be a free agent I think that the reality for me is that I wouldn’t think about it again until they brought it up,” Whitworth told Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Whitworth also said that he’s open to shifting to guard later in his career, a move that he made briefly in 2014 (with great success). The Bengals drafted tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the first two rounds of the 2015 draft, so Whitworth’s future at tackle might be limited, at least in Cincinnati.
The Vikings have agreed to a re-worked contract with Phil Loadholt, per Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News (on Twitter). Loadholt will earn a $2MM base in 2016 and can make up to $3.5MM through incentives. A source close to Loadholt tells Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press (link) that the tackle is “betting on himself” to come back strong after having injuries in 2015, hence the one-year deal.
Loadholt missed only one game from 2009-13 but injuries have slowed him down in a major way ever since. The 343-pounder missed the final five games of the 2014 campaign because of a torn pectoral muscle and missed all of 2015 with a torn Achilles. Loadholt, 30, hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2012, but he suited up for 15 contests in 2013 and graded out as a top-five tackle by Pro Football Focus’ standards.
In other Vikings news, the team announced that they have tendered an offer to Zach Line. The team will now have first right of refusal on the fullback. Minnesota has also re-signed two ERFAs. Wide receiver Adam Thielen and tackle Carter Bykowski will be back with the club in 2016.
As of now, Wallace is due to count an unpalatable $11.5MM against the Vikings’ cap in 2016, while Loadholt has a $7.75MM charge. The Vikings would incur no dead money if they were to cut Wallace, thus recouping his entire $11.5MM hit. Loadholt’s release would free up $6MM for the Vikes, who are currently middle of the pack in spending room ($23.80MM), according to Over the Cap.
Wallace, whom the Vikings acquired from the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick a year ago, was supposed to provide young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a high-caliber target last season. That didn’t happen, though, as the seventh-year man had the least productive campaign of his career.
After five straight seasons of 60-plus receptions, 800 or more yards and at least five touchdowns, Wallace caught a mere 39 passes for 473 yards and two scores for the NFC North champions. Those numbers were all personal worsts for the 29-year-old. Nevertheless, the Vikings are fans of Wallace’s locker room presence and still think he has productive football left in him, Tomasson notes.
“(Wallace) probably was disappointing from a statistical standpoint, but (there was) what Mike Wallace brought into our locker room and his buy-in and his sacrifice from a standpoint of stats and what was best for the team,’’ general manager Rick Spielman said at last month’s scouting combine.
Since sitting out only one game from 2009-13, injuries have hampered Loadholt. The 343-pounder missed the final five games of the 2014 campaign because of a torn pectoral muscle and then all of last season with a torn Achilles. Loadholt, 30, hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2012, but he suited up for 15 contests in 2013 and graded out as a top-five tackle by Pro Football Focus’ standards.
T.J. Clemmings took over for Loadholt last season and started all 17 of Minnesota’s games as a fourth-round rookie, though he ranked an ugly 62nd out of 77 qualifying tackles at PFF (subscription required).
Wallace has two seasons remaining on the five-year, $60MM pact he signed with Miami in 2013. Loadholt is entering the final season of a four-year, $25MM deal.
According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, word around this year’s scouting combine from agents and league personnel is that the Packers intend to go after more free agents than usual this offseason — especially veterans released by their previous teams, who won’t factor into the compensatory draft pick formula for next year.
“We’ll see how it shakes out,” head coach MikeMcCarthy said on Thursday. “We might shock you this year.”
Green Bay, a draft-and-develop franchise, typically plays it fairly safe in free agency, making small additions here and there but mostly focusing on locking up the team’s own free agents. While a series of big splashes this year seems unlikely, it sounds like the Packers may foray into the open market in order to fill a couple holes.
Here’s more from around the NFC North:
The Bears would like to re-sign veteran tight end Zach Miller, but will likely let him test the free agent market to get a better sense of what he’s worth, as Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com details. “What happens at this stage in the game is you understand the reality that a lot of times these guys have to hit the open market to set their value,” GM Ryan Pace said. “We like Zach, I don’t want to go through every one of our unrestricted free agents, but he’s a guy we’d want back and we’re negotiating with him.”
Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News (Twitter link) hears that the Vikings want to keep offensive tackle Phil Loadholt in 2016, but would like to lower his cap number, which is currently $7.75MM. Per Wolfson, a meeting on the Loadholt front took place last night at the combine.
As the Vikings look to retain Loadholt, they’re “torn” on tackle Matt Kalil, according to Wolfson (via Twitter). A former fourth overall pick, Kalil hasn’t necessarily lived up to his billing so far and has an $11MM cap number for 2016. But he has also never missed a regular-season start in his four NFL seasons, so Minnesota would have a hole to fill if the team were to let him go.
If the Lions want to keep their 2013 draft class, it’ll cost them a pretty penny, says Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. The Lions are slated to have $20MM in salary cap space right now and they could tack on another $11MM if Calvin Johnson retires. Still, the team has five starting-caliber players from the 2013 class that are slated to hit the open market in 2017 if they don’t sign new deals.
Here’s more on the Lions and some of their division rivals:
Speaking of Johnson’s potential retirement, in a separate piece for the Free Press, Birkett writes that some observers believe Megatron would be more likely to continue playing for the Lions if the team had won more during his time in Detroit.
The Lions have hired former Miami and Temple head coach Al Golden as their tight ends coach, the team announced in a press release. It’s the first NFL job for the longtime college coach, who was with the Hurricanes from 2011 to 2015.
Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt, who is working his way back from a torn Achilles, is optimistic that he’ll be ready to go for offseason workouts this spring. However, it remains to be seen whether he’ll still be on Minnesota’s roster at that point, since the club could create $6MM in cap savings by releasing him. Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune spoke to Loadholt about his recovery and his uncertain contract status.
Earlier this afternoon, we learned that Bears tight end Zach Miller is seeking $5MM per year on his next contract. That story is right here.