The Minnesota Vikings have been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL so far this season with a 4-1 record and a chance to extend their winning streak to four in a row with a win on the road against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
Now a report suggests they have had opened talks regarding a multi-year contract extension with offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, who has started 52 games at right tackle since being drafted in the second round in 2009 (54th overall) out of the University of Oklahoma. He has improved his overall consistency this season after spending the offseason working out at his alma mater and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson has cited his work ethic and professionalism.
Loadholt is in the final season of the four-year deal he signed as a rookie and the Vikings are generally proactive in getting young players they want to retain signed to long-term deals before their rookie contracts expire. The Vikings have 10 players on their current 53-man roster who can become unrestricted free agents next spring and Loadholt is clearly the most established of the group. Theoretically, he is also the one in that group that is guaranteed to be back with the team next season.
The Vikings have some financial flexibility right now as they sit just over $8.5 million under the adjusted 2012 salary cap. That opens the door to get a deal done with Loadholt soon before some other contract issues (Percy Harvin, Jared Allen) have a chance to become more urgent after the season.
Obviously, right tackles are generally not as well-known or as highly paid as their left tackle brethren. According to data compiled elsewhere, only 10 right tackles across the league have contracts in place that average $3 million or more per season right now. So any deal the Vikings agree to with Loadholt would be fairly inexpensive and locking up a key piece of an offensive line that has undergone some changes over the last couple years would be a good thing.
Loadholt is just 26 years old and can be a long-term fixture for the Vikings even if he never becomes an elite player. The fact they know his strengths (size, run blocking) as well as his weaknesses (speedy pass rushers) will allow them to accurately assess his value and decide if they can replace him adequately with another player.