The only thing standing between the Vikings and offensive tackle Matt Kalil in April’s draft are the St. Louis Rams. It’s clear that the Colts are going to take QB Andrew Luck with the first pick and it appears that the Cleveland Browns aren’t going to take any chances on missing out on Baylor QB Robert Griffin III. There is a growing sentiment that the Rams are going to trade out of the pick and collect the Browns’ picks at Nos. 4 and 22 – a trade match made in draft-value-chart heaven.
You may be wondering why it is just automatically assumed that, if the Vikings stay at the No. 3 pick and Kalil is on the board, he will be the selection? History, my friends.
Every franchise has been marked throughout its history for things it does. The Raiders draft for speed, even at the expense of talent. The Patriots trade draft picks. The Cowboys take big-play types, even if they are raw talents. It’s what they do. The Vikings, perhaps more than any team over the last half-century, have never been weak at left tackle. Organizationally, from Norm Van Brocklin to Bud Grant to Denny Green to Mike Tice, they have all shared one common philosophy – get a left tackle in place and keep him there.
Don’t believe me? Facts speak louder than words. When the Vikings began in 1961, they plucked Grady Alderman off the roster of the Detroit Lions in the expansion draft and he was the team’s starting left tackle from their first game until his retirement in 1973. He was replaced by Charles Goodrum, a ninth-round draft pick in 1972. However, in 1974, Bud Grant and the Vikings used a first-round draft pick on Steve Riley, who took over in 1975 and remained the starter until 1984. Many sad memories came from that final season of Riley’s career – the ill-fated Les Steckel season. But, when the Old Trapper got out of the Barcalounger and put his headsets back on 1985, Riley was done.
In 1985, Boo Boo Rouse got the job, primarily because of his size and experience on the left side of the O-line – he was the starting guard in 1984. But, when the USFL folded following the 1985 season, the Vikings moved quickly – trading a pair of second-round picks to the New York Giants (who had the rights to Gary Zimmerman through the USFL/CFL supplemental draft in 1984). The future Hall of Famer would man left tackle for seven years (1986-92) before moving on to Denver and finishing his career in 1997 with a Super Bowl ring.
After Zimmerman moved on to Denver, Everett Lindsay was the left tackle in 1993. The following year, the Vikings used a first-round pick on Todd Steussie. From 1994-2000, Steussie was the starting left tackle – helping the Vikings reach two conference championship games in his final two seasons.
In 2001, backup utility lineman Brad Badger was shifted to left tackle, where he lasted on year. In that season, the Vikings finished at 5-11 and, when the opportunity came in 2002 to draft a replacement, Bryant McKinnie was selected and held down the left tackle spot until 2010.
McKinnie would likely still be the Vikings’ left tackle heading into next season had he not shown up to training camp woefully out of shape. But, he did. No offense to Charlie Johnson – he played well, but has never been confused with an elite left tackle.
In the half-century history of the Vikings, they have never gone into a second season after losing a premier left tackle without having a long-term replacement. In their history, as long as it is, they have only been faced with this conundrum four times. They have used three first-round draft picks and traded two second-round draft picks to get a young star tackle.
This year, they face the same riddle for the fifth time – and many believe that, if Kalil is on the board when they pick at No. 3, he’ll be the latest young millionaire to do a grip-and-grin photo op with the owner and the head coach while hoisting his new jersey.
If Kalil happens to hold up a No. 73 jersey, it would send the same message to Johnson that Christian Ponder clutching a No. 7 jersey did to Tarvaris Jackson. Fans love picks like Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin that sell jerseys and change the outlook of the team moving forward. Offensively linemen don’t sell tickets. But, considering that the Vikings have only dipped their bucket into the left tackle well three times in 51 years, they can’t complain about the results.
In the case of Kalil, the fourth time may be the charm.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.