6 free agents the Vikings can't afford to lose in 2024

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - New York Giants v Minnesota Vikings
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - New York Giants v Minnesota Vikings / Stephen Maturen/GettyImages
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Vikings Player No. 4

Ezra Cleveland, offensive line

Since arriving in Minnesota as a second-round pick in 2020, Cleveland has become a dependable guard and has not missed a game in the past two seasons. Consistency in the offensive line is key for any quarterback to find and sustain a rhythm and Cleveland has certainly helped.

In 2022, Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded Cleveland’s run blocking at 80.3. That number was good for fourth out of 79 NFL guards who played at least 300 snaps last year. It’s that type of blocking that helped running back Dalvin Cook rush for over 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns.

The issue for Cleveland is his pass protection. PFF graded his 2022 ability to protect the quarterback at 59th out of those same 79 guards. Anyone that has seen the Netflix special “Quarterback” witnessed this first hand. The number of times that Kirk Cousins was pummeled by opposing pass rushers during the show was shocking. Wearing a flak vest didn’t seem to help the quarterback and he was left gasping and wheezing several times after vicious hits.

By the end of the year, Cousins had been sacked a career-high 46 times. That was up significantly from the 28 sacks he sustained in 2021. Not all those sacks can be attributed to Cleveland, of course, but he and his mates need to up their game this year. If he does improve his pass protection grade, then re-signing Cleveland makes sense to provide that crucial line continuity for 2024.