Berger had openly discussed the idea of the 2017 season being his last. In January, during the Vikings’ playoff run, his pending retirement was brought up again, a decision he said he’d make in the offseason “if anybody even wants me back.”
He dabbled with free agency because teams did want him. The Vikings hoped to bring back the 35-year-old guard, and they weren’t his only suitor. Berger reportedly drew interest from Chicago, Detroit and Carolina, teams that saw the value in a player whose greatest skill in the past few seasons was his durability. As injuries ravaged the Vikings' offensive line in 2016 and again last season, Berger provided stability as the game of musical chairs sped up. Last season, Berger led the offense with 1,116 snaps, which included filling in at center for an injured Pat Elflein against Chicago.
The Vikings also saw the departure of reserve guard/tackle Jeremiah Sirles, who signed with Carolina. Minnesota chose not to place a restricted free-agent tender on the 26-year-old lineman and knew the competition it would face when he hit the open market.
Minnesota will now shift its focus to finding a starting right guard and replacing the depth it lost with Sirles' departure. First, a quick look at where things stand with the rest of the offensive line:
The Vikings placed a second-round tender on left guard Nick Easton, who could end up signing a long-term deal with Minnesota this offseason. Easton had surgery on his injured left ankle but should be ready to participate in some workouts during OTAs.
Elflein is progressing well since his ankle surgery in January. His rehab is on schedule, and the center should be able to do some work this spring.
Where Mike Remmers will play next season might determine how the Vikings handle other offseason acquisitions, including the draft. Remmers, who was brought in last year at right tackle, shifted to guard at the end of the season.
Returning reserves: Rashod Hill (started several games at right tackle because of Remmers' injuries), Danny Isidora, Aviante Collins, Cornelius Edison (moved to the 53-man roster as the backup center ahead of Week 17)
The Vikings signed former Bears/Redskins OL Tom Compton on Thursday. Minnesota needed to find a versatile lineman who could play both guard and tackle spots, knowing that the departures of Sirles and Berger were imminent. Compton, a Minnesota native, has played in 71 games in the NFL, including 16 starts, with five at guard for Chicago last season.
If Minnesota decides to move Remmers back to right tackle, Compton could be a candidate to compete for a starting spot at right guard. The Vikings will get a closer look at Compton in a couple weeks when the team returns for spring workouts.
According to Pro Football Focus, Compton ranked 47th among all guards in the NFL last season and earned an overall grade of 45.7 (classified as "poor" by PFF) in 2017. He’s proven to be a capable swingman at times and might be expected to fill a reserve role instead of working his way into the starting five, especially if the Vikings choose to draft a guard in the first round.
General manager Rick Spielman has said the offensive line remains a priority this offseason, which is why the draft is where the franchise might find Berger’s replacement.
Names such as Will Hernandez (UTEP), Isaiah Wynn (Georgia) and Billy Price (Ohio State) will be thrown around as potential first-round selections for Minnesota with the 30th overall pick. It is a deep draft for offensive guards, so the Vikings could choose to wait until the second or third round to draft a lineman and use that first-round pick on another position.
Their draft plans could depend on where Remmers plays in 2018. If they choose to keep him at guard, finding someone who can compete for the starting right tackle spot will be imperative.
If that’s the strategy, keep an eye on the likes of Connor Williams (Texas), Martinas Rankin (Mississippi State), Kolton Miller (UCLA) and Tyrell Crosby (Oregon), who could all be available within the early rounds.
Either way, as the Vikings continue in the second wave of free agency and into the draft, filling needs on the offensive line is becoming their top focus as they look to replace Berger and Sirles and upgrade the depth they've come to rely on in the past few seasons.