The Minnesota Vikings have signed right tackle Brian O'Neill to a multi-year contract extension, the team announced on Wednesday. The numbers of the extension aren't yet known, but O'Neill told reporters that it's a five-year deal, meaning he's on the books through the 2025 season.
It seemed like this might not happen when training camp and the preseason came and went without a new deal for O'Neill, the 2018 second-round pick who was entering the final year of his rookie contract. But during the Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer era, the Vikings have a tradition of getting these things done with their homegrown talent. Last year, Dalvin Cook inked an extension right before the start of the season, and O'Neill has now done the same.
“There was never really a doubt in my mind that something was going to get done," O'Neill said. "This is where I want to be. I want to be a Viking for my whole career.”
The numbers on this contract will be interesting to see. The right tackle market was set earlier this offseason with extensions for the Saints' Ryan Ramczyk, the Panthers' Taylor Moton, and the Colts' Braden Smith. We'll see how O'Neill's deal compares to that trio.
Ramczyk deservedly received the most out of that group, as he was Pro Football Focus's highest-graded tackle in the NFL in 2019. Moton and Smith have also proven to be slightly better than O'Neill thus far in their careers, although not by a significant margin.
O'Neill, who turns 26 on September 15th, has gotten better in each of his three seasons in Minnesota. He made headlines by not allowing a sack as a rookie after entering the starting lineup in Week 6, but he wasn't actually great in pass protection that year, surrendering 31 pressures and eight QB hits while also struggling to find his rhythm as a run-blocker.
O'Neill's sophomore campaign in 2019 was notably better, as he allowed just 19 pressures and one sack in 15 starts. The baseline of his performances improved and he became much more consistent.
The Pitt product continued his upwards trajectory last season, making huge strides in the run game. He played all 16 games and seemed to master the Vikings' outside zone scheme, putting his athleticism to great use and paving the way for another monster season for Dalvin Cook. O'Neill was a little inconsistent in pass protection, giving up 26 pressures and three sacks, although those sacks comprised all of his career-low three QB hits allowed. It was clearly his best NFL season, even if he didn't quite make the leap into the tier of truly elite right tackles that some were expecting.
Here's how PFF has graded and charted O'Neill in his three seasons. Last year, he was the 11th-highest graded right tackle in the league with a minimum of 600 snaps at RT.
O'Neill's best traits are his athleticism and run blocking ability, which go hand in hand. When the Vikings selected him 62nd overall in 2018, it was the start of a new trend in which they prioritized elite athleticism on the offensive line. They followed that up with even more absurd athletes in Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland in the next two drafts.
Possessing incredible quickness and agility, the 6'7", 310-pound O'Neill (he's put on more than ten pounds since his rookie year) is a perfect fit for the Vikings' running scheme. He's able to make difficult reach blocks, pull to either direction, and easily make blocks at the second level when he gets out in space.
The one thing holding O'Neill back from becoming a top-five player at his position is that he's been merely good, not great, in pass protection. Whether he can make that leap remains a question mark, considering he struggled at times in training camp with players like Danielle Hunter and Von Miller. But O'Neill is just entering the prime of his career at 26 years old, has added some muscle to his frame, and has improved in each of his three seasons.
The Vikings are betting on continued improvement from O'Neill. If he makes the leap into the elite tier, this contract could end up being pretty team-friendly. Even if he doesn't, it was probably worth it for the Vikings to lock in the most talented and consistent member of their offensive line.
Minnesota has now gone two for two on its extension checklist, signing Harrison Smith and O'Neill to long-term deals.