MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings eliminated their cap deficit on Wednesday upon releasing veteran left tackle Riley Reiff, the team announced.
Reiff became the first domino to fall for the Vikings this offseason, and his release will allow the team more financial flexibility to go after unrestricted free agents. The left tackle was due a $5 million roster bonus on March 19, which was negotiated into his contract upon his agreeing to a restructured deal last September. His release frees up $11.75 million in cap space to put Minnesota $8,730,584 under the cap.
The 32-year-old tackle took a $5 million pay cut after Minnesota acquired defensive end Yannick Ngakoue via a trade at the end of the 2020 preseason. At the time, the acquisition left the Vikings with less than $1 million in cap space. Reiff, who had a $10.9 million salary in 2020 that came with a $13.2 million cap hit, was approached with a proposition to restructure his contract, which lowered his cap charge to $8.2 million and earned him a base salary of $5.9 million.
The Vikings aimed to keep Reiff in the fold with an extension that would lower his $13.95 million cap hit for 2021. Instead, the tackle will hit the open market one day after two offensive tackles, Cam Robinson and Taylor Moton, were both given a franchise tag that will pay them $14 million this season.
Reiff, a former first-round pick, was drafted by Detroit in 2012 and signed with Minnesota as a free agent in 2017, switching from right to left tackle in the process. He started 62 games for the Vikings and allowed 12 sacks over four seasons.
"I thought Riley played very consistent last year, had probably one of his best years here, and for him 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," general manager Rick Spielman said last week
Reiff's release creates an opening for Minnesota at left tackle. Last April, the Vikings drafted Ezra Cleveland with the 58th overall pick from Boise State, where he played three seasons at left tackle. After spending the preseason as the second-team left guard, Cleveland moved to right guard and started nine games.
Whether Cleveland is moved to left tackle for the 2021 season "depends on what happens over these next couple months on who's here and who's not here," Spielman said last week. Minnesota could also consider moving right tackle Brian O'Neill to left tackle and replacing him with Cleveland. Extension talks are expected to begin for O'Neill, a 2018 second-round pick, in the coming months ahead of his fourth season with Minnesota.
The Vikings were 18th in pass block win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and allowed 39 sacks last season. While Minnesota aims to address several needs on the defensive side of the ball, improving its pass protection on the offensive line is critical this offseason.
"I think you're always going to look to improve that area," coach Mike Zimmer said at the end of the season. 'There's no area that we don't want to look to improve ... I do like that group. The continuity that they have, the communications that they have. I like that group but we'll have to see and if we can improve we'll improve."