For years now, I've known Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt in two ways ... First, I'm pretty sure he eats people, and two, he's always getting flags pulled on him for false starts and holdings. This is why they probably don't let fans make personnel decisions, though.
Aside from being large enough to hide children in his sweatshirt pockets, Phil Loadholt has always seemed like one of those players that sports fans have on their team that it seems everyone else ends up overrating. You know, the guys that we end up watching all season long and know they aren't actually that good because we see all their drops and blown coverages to go with their amazing one handed catches and passes defended. It's always felt like that with Big Phil. He'll stand out like a blow job not on your birthday when he gets a holding call or a false start called against him, but the rest of the time?
Well, the rest of the time he's apparently doing pretty damn good.
As part of their free agency features, Grantland has highlighted Big Phil as one of the Vikings free agents to keep an eye on this off-season. According to their "research" (which probably includes drinking Samuel Adams and swearing about the Yankees):
When he was coming out of Oklahoma in 2009, the book on Loadholt was that although he might struggle in pass protection, his 6-foot-8, 350-pound frame made him an ideal fit as a road-grading right tackle. Since the Vikings took him in the second half of the second round, the latter has proven to be true while the former hasn’t been as much of a concern as originally thought. Pro Football Focus graded Loadholt as the 20th-best pass-blocking tackle in football, and according to Football Outsiders, Minnesota was fifth in PFF's adjusted line yards metric on runs over right tackle (their best among the five designated run locations). Among its best available free-agent tackles, Pro Football Focus has Loadholt fifth.
Take a second to digest what you just read. Take two, in fact, because there is some weird, scary **** in that paragraph. Let us break it down for you:
- Phil Loadholt is only listed as 350 pounds. HAHA! YEAH RIGHT! Maybe when standing on one leg! Wait ...
- Loadholt was graded as the 20th best PASS BLOCKING TACKLE in football last year. Pass blocking. Tackle. Not just right tackle. ANY tackle. LOLWUT
- In 2012, the Vikings most successful running play? Let Adrian Peterson go HAM. But to where? To the right side, where Loadholt was blocking. Is any of this making any sense?
Listen, I think it's safe to admit Loadholt was noticeably better in 2012 if for no other reason that he was hardly noticeable. You never want to notice your offensive linemen, because that usually means they are being busted for something. But for this guy to come from where he was, where every fan know him to be, and receive these type of (semi) objective accolades? Hey, uh, he might be pretty good. Which is kind of a mind banger right now.
The real kicker is that he's an unrestricted free agent who will hit the market, and will likely be the fifth best tackle on the free agent market. Tackles don't come cheap, left or right. We all know how good Michael Oher for the Ravens is, and he played right tackle for them while they won a Super Bowl this year while FatKinnie held down the left side of the offensive line. IT'S LIKE NOTHING AT ALL MAKES SENSE EVER AGAIN.
Point is, Loadholt isn't coming back to the team cheaply, but we may need him to. Our tackle depth isn't exactly anything to be proud about (Demarcus Love do anything for you? Brandon Fusco? Didn't think so), and this team had their rebuilding year THIS year. That means they need to keep building themselves up, not take steps backwards. One of the greatest ways to do that is to have consistency along the offensive line. With a rookie stud in Matt Kalil, emerging star in John Sullivan, and a potential corner stone (more like a Pantheon pillar) in Phil Loadholt for the next three to four years (if Loadholt is re-signed)? Damn. Peterson may get his 2,500 yards yet.
I don't really know if the Vikings will shell out the coin for him though. Indications from recent interviews with Rick Spielman make it sound like Big Phil is the top internal free agent priority this year, followed by Jerome Felton at fullback. Both are unrestricted free agents. The rest of the team's unrestricted free agent pool includes names like Jamarca Sanford, Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, Geoff Schwartz, Devin Aromashodu ... I mean, not exactly a list of all-stars or even starters at this point. Not if we want to win a Super Bowl. So saying Loadholt and Felton are your top concerns in the free agent market doesn't seem ridiculous.
And you want to know the scariest part? I kind of agree with that (!). The Vikings may actually be making smart moves for once, moves smarter than the fans could make. Who knew it would ever come to this?!