EAGAN, Minn. — The calendar has flipped to March, which means the 2021 edition of free agency is quickly approaching.
The 2021 league year officially begins at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 17.
Vikings.com is continuing its position-by-position outlook series with the offensive line, outlining which Vikings are scheduled to become free agents, explaining where potential needs might be and noting players from other teams that are set to become free agents.
Riley Reiff, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland, Brian O'Neill, Dru Samia, Olisaemeka Udoh, Kyle Hinton, Blake Brandel, Zack Bailey
2020 Stats: 1,004 offensive snaps (92.8 percent); started 15 games
Reiff was perhaps the Vikings best lineman in 2020, as the veteran and team captain provided his usual steady play along with strong leadership. But with the salary cap decreasing, his name has been mentioned by media as one that bears watching as Minnesota tries to get cap compliant before next week.
Update: The Vikings announced Wednesday afternoon they have terminated Reiff's contract.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman praised Reiff's play in 2020 but also noted there are "many moving parts" when it comes to the future of Minnesota's offensive line.
"I thought Riley played very consistent last year, had probably one of his best years here," Spielman said. "He's just so smart, so competitive, and he's really learned over the years how to play very efficient, and he was definitely one of our most consistent offensive linemen last year."
2020 Stats: 1,082 offensive snaps (100 percent); started all 16 games
The former first-round center has been durable in his first two seasons in Purple, playing 2,071 of 2,106 total snaps since 2019. Bradbury also took a step forward in 2020 and will be counted on to keep progressing in 2021 and beyond as the signal caller up front.
2020 Stats: 622 offensive snaps (57.5 percent); started nine games
Cleveland spent his college career at left tackle but only played right guard in his rookie season. Depending on what happens with Reiff's status, Cleveland is a candidate to play left tackle if that spot becomes available.
Spielman was asked about Cleveland last week.
"It all depends on what happens over these next couple months on who's here and who's not here," Spielman said. "Then it's the coaches figuring out what's our best five? And where are you going to line them all up at? We're very excited about some of these young offensive linemen and usually these offensive linemen continue to grow and get better every year.
"So I think with a Bradbury and with O'Neill and now Ezra, I think we're very excited about having a young core up there that'll continue to grow and get better," Spielman added. "But I think the coaches will determine what's the best lineup, and we have had a lot of discussion about that already."
2020 Stats: 1,071 offensive snaps (99.0 percent); started all 16 games
The 2018 second-round pick has solidified himself as one of the better right tackles in the league and has also grown into more of a leader in recent seasons. O'Neill is also entering the final season of his rookie contract and could be a candidate for a multiyear extension.
View the best photos of Vikings T Brian O'Neill from the 2020 season.
2020 Stats: 272 offensive snaps (25.1 percent); started four games
Samia was viewed by many as a potential starter going into the 2020 season, but he opened the season as the backup right tackle. He was thrust into action due to injuries but struggled in four starts before getting injured himself. A fourth-round pick in 2019, Samia will be looked upon to show some progression this offseason and in training camp.
2020 Stats: 4 offensive snaps (0.4 percent); no starts
Udoh has played just 35 offensive snaps in his first two seasons after being a sixth-round pick in 2019. He offers plenty of promise with his size and athleticism and could be an important depth piece — possibly as a swing tackle — once the 2021 season rolls around.
2020 Stats: No offensive snaps; spent all but one game on practice squad
Hinton likely gained solid experience and reps on the practice squad in 2020. An ultra-athletic player, he was a 2020 seventh-round pick out of Division II Washburn University.
2020 Stats: No offensive snaps; spent entire season on practice squad
Brandel is in a similar position as Hinton. He was a sixth-round pick out of Oregon State but a virtual offseason and no preseason games meant all of his work came in training camp and practice.
2020 Stats: No offensive snaps; spent part of the season on practice squad
Bailey joined the Vikings practice squad for the final month of 2020 after spending time on Tampa Bay's practice squad. He offers position flexibility as he made 38 starts (27 at left guard, eight at right tackle and three at center) in college for South Carolina.
SCHEDULED TO BECOME FREE AGENTS:
Dakota Dozier (unrestricted free agent)
2020 Stats: 1,082 offensive snaps (100 percent); started all 16 games
Dozier started an entire season for the first time in his career but produced mixed results at left guard. He joined the Vikings in 2019 and started four games before moving into a starting role this past season.
Minnesota could choose to bring him back to compete for a starting job or help provide depth along the line. Dozier has extensive experience with offensive line coach Rick Dennison.
Rashod Hill (unrestricted free agent)
2020 Stats: 122 offensive snaps (11.3 percent); started one game
Hill has grown into a solid player in the swing tackle role since arriving in 2016 off Jacksonville's practice squad. He has appeared in 59 regular-season games with 17 starts in the past five seasons and can play both ends of the line.
Hill could have options in free agency if teams pursue him as a starter. If that doesn't materialize, he could always return to the Vikings in his usual role … or perhaps even as a starter here depending on what happens with Reiff.
Brett Jones (unrestricted free agent)
2020 Stats: 139 offensive snaps (12.8 percent); started two games
One of the most popular players in the Vikings locker room, Jones provides quality depth and the ability to start on occasion if needed. Teammates and coaches raved about him when he started in Weeks 11 and 12 this past season. Jones, a native of Canada, could choose to return to the Vikings based on his options in free agency.
As usual, there will be plenty of focus on the offensive line in the coming weeks and months. Spielman met with the Twin Cities media last week and said the trio of Bradbury, Cleveland and O'Neill are viewed as young players who are long-term pieces in Minnesota.
Reiff isn't young at age 32, but could be part of the plan for a few more seasons if an extension comes to fruition. However, as stated above, his status will likely be sorted out soon as the Vikings try to get under the salary cap, which has a floor of $180 million.
If Dozier isn't back (and if Cleveland moves to left tackle to take over for a potentially-departed Reiff), that would mean the Vikings would be looking for a starting guard on each side of Bradbury. There are some in-house options with Hinton and others, but it could push the Vikings to address the line in free agency and the draft.
While most recent mock drafts have the Vikings taking a defensive lineman, some pundits project offensive line help to Minnesota.
As Spielman himself stated above, there will be more clarity soon on the group in the coming weeks.
WHO'S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE?
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal recently updated his list of the top 101 potential free agents.
The following offensive linemen are listed in order of their overall rankings (as of the time of this post): 1. Trent Williams (tackle), 9. Joe Thuney (guard), 11. Corey Linsley (center), 27. Daryl Williams (tackle), 39. David Andrews (center), 63. Austin Reiter (center), 69. Alejandro Villanueva (tackle), 75. Kelvin Beachum (tackle) and 100. Austin Blythe (guard).
There are a handful of big names here, but the players near the top will also likely come with hefty contracts, too.
Rosenthal noted that Trent Williams, an eight-time Pro Bowler, and the 49ers had an agreement that San Francisco would not tag him. The 2021 deadline for teams to tag players was March 9.
Carolina tackle Taylor Moton (originally 10th in Rosenthal's list) and Washington guard Brandon Scherff (originally 11th) were among players who were franchise tagged.
Thuney (has started all 80 regular-season games since 2016) and Andrews (69 starts in 72 games since 2015) started for the Patriots in Super Bowls LI, LII and LIII.
Linsley has started 99 games for Green Bay and earned one Pro Bowl nod since 2014. Every other player on Rosenthal's list has started at least 33 games.
Depending on what moves Minnesota makes (and how the Vikings view the young players already on their roster), perhaps the team tries to land a mid-tier free agent to provide stability and a veteran presence on the offensive line.