Bleacher Report released ideal trades for each NFL team this week, and unsurprisingly, offensive line was on the agenda for the Minnesota Vikings. Head coach Mike Zimmer’s team has been a habitually decent run-blocking squad – with pass-protection woes galore. The suggestion by Bleacher Report endorses a swap of an unknown Vikings commodity for veteran offensive lineman from the Cleveland Browns – Chris Hubbard. Hubbard will be 30 years old when the 2021 season kicks off and has been a part of the NFL since Mike Zimmer’s first year with the Vikings. He hails from the University of Alabama-Birmingham and has started for about half of his career, both with Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. He departed the Steelers for the Browns in 2018, earning a chance to start in Cleveland more so than he did in Pittsburgh. In 2020 with Cleveland, Hubbard served as a spot starter, receiving five official starts. He can be considered the “next man up” offensive lineman on a Browns line peppered with talent. His skill set – if analogized to a current offensive lineman on the Vikings – would most closely align with Riley Reiff. The 32-year-old Reiff is in a state of flux this offseason as Minnesota may extend his contract, backloading it with incentives in years to come. Or – Reiff may outright depart for a different franchise. In fact, in the Bleacher Report piece, he was dispatched to the Kansas City Chiefs because of Eric Fisher’s uncertain injury recovery timeline. Reiff is slated to be the third highest-paid Vikings player in 2021. What would Hubbard bring to the table? Hubbard’s PFF It is uncertain where specifically on the Vikings offensive line that Hubbard would be plopped. By trade, he is a tackle, but the Vikings already have solid one of those in Brian O’Neill. Yet, his services would indeed be enjoyable somewhere on the offensive line. Hubbard notched an overall 71.9 Pro Football Focus score in 2020 while playing in 11 games. That mark, if directly transplanted onto the Vikings 2020 roster, would nominate Hubbard as the team’s second-best offensive lineman behind the aforementioned O’Neill. Hubbard is a better pass-protection asset than a run blocker. His PFF grade with protecting Baker Mayfield was 78.3 whereas his run-blocking score was 64.9. And Minnesota needs more help protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins than it does paving lanes for Dalvin Cook, although a package deal would be terrific. Versatility Hubbard effectively played wherever the Browns needed him during the pandemic season. Cleveland owns one of the NFL’s top offensive lines, so Hubbard has Mike Boone vibes in this regard. Boone is quite good – but the Vikings already employ Cook and Alexander Mattison. Sending Hubbard to the Vikings would grant him an opportunity to start at either tackle or guard – tasks of which he can handle based on his stops in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The Vikings applaud swingmen in the trenches. There is precedent for moving Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Ezra Cleveland, and others from spot to spot – in varying degrees of success. Hubbard would feel at home with this state of affairs, for better or worse. His versatility is also a bonus as the Vikings forecast for the 2021 offensive line is undetermined. If the franchise retains Reiff, well, it doesn’t really need a left tackle. Should they dump Reiff, Hubbard could play tackle or guard if Cleveland moves back to his organic tackle position. The Hypothetical Lineup Signing on for another year of Reiff at an undecided price point – and pulling the trigger on this Hubbard trade – would indicate the offensive line is basically “done” for offseason maintenance. It would resemble this: RT – Brian O’Neill, RG – Chris Hubbard, C – Garrett Bradbury, LG – Ezra Cleveland, LT – Riley Reiff. That will not inspire fear all over the place, but it will not cause heartburn. This grouping would likely finish closer to average in the NFL than the preordained cellar where the Vikings annually dwell with pass protection. Life without Reiff would look more like this: RT – Brian O’Neill, RG – Undetermined Player X, C – Garrett Bradbury, LG – Chris Hubbard, LT – Ezra Cleveland. Too, Cleveland and Hubbard can be flip-flopped here depending on the vision of new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak. The Bleacher Report deal makes no mention of what the Vikings must surrender to obtain Hubbard, but it will probably entail a late-round draft pick. And that would be worthwhile. His $3.6 million 2021 price tag is semi-doable for the cash-strapped Vikings.
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