Riley Reiff was the first free agent signing the Vikings made heading into this season. His five-year, $58.8 million deal is the sixth-highest contract for a left tackle in the NFL and his $26.3 million guaranteed is the third-highest mark, showing just how important the Vikings viewed him.
Reiff played five seasons with the Lions before coming to Minnesota. He played primarily at left tackle, but was at right tackle during the 2016 season.
The Vikings saw Reiff as a replacement for Matt Kalil to protect their quarterbacks’ blind side. So far that has worked: Reiff has started 15 of 16 games and allowed only four sacks. He figures to be a key player against the Saints in the NFC divisional playoff game Sunday.
“They have some really good pass rushers, especially Cameron Jordan,” Reiff said. “He’s one of the best in the league and playing at a real high level.”
When asked if the Saints have changed much from the Vikings’ 29-19 victory over them in Week 1, Reiff said there was no question.
“I think they really found an identity, and they’re playing really well right now,” he said. “They’re communicating well and playing at a real high level. We’re going to have our hands full.”
When told former Vikings coach Bud Grant often said that durability is as important as ability, Reiff said that really rang true for a lineman.
“I missed one game this year,” he said. “Joe [Berger] has been in there, rock-solid. It’s just part of the NFL. Guys go down, people need to step up, shuffle your line around a little bit. It’s just the way it goes.”
Joining the Vikings
Reiff said playing in Detroit gave him an up-close appreciation of the Vikings’ defensive line talent.
“[Everson] Griffen, B Rob [Brian Robison], Danielle [Hunter], they’re really good,” Reiff said. “I mean they are some of the best in the league.”
Growing up in Parkston, S.D., meant Reiff was exposed to lots of Vikings coverage as the closest NFL team. Now that he’s joined them, he gets asked for a lot more tickets on game day.
He is fired up about the team making the playoffs and being at home Sunday.
“With the Vikings, this is my first playoff game and everything is intense,” he said. “It’s win or go home. It makes it exciting. You have to be on top of your game.”
Reiff also was a standout high school wrestler, posting a record of 121-1 and winning three state titles. He said wrestling techniques he learned still help him.
“I think there is a lot of correlations between wrestling and football — hand fighting, balance, footwork, stuff like that,” he said.
Reiff then played college football at Iowa, with the Hawkeyes splitting four games with the Gophers during his years there.
“It was always a tough game,” he said. “We played for [the Floyd of Rosedale] trophy, and we were always given their best shot. We always gave them our best shot. Coming up here, it’s always a tough place to play.”
Saints get defensive
As long as Drew Brees is quarterback, the Saints are going to be known for their offense. But the Wall Street Journal pointed out that their defense is what changed a team that went 7-9 in each of the previous three seasons to 11-5 this year.
The article, titled “How the Saints Defense Tipped the Scales,” noted that the Saints gave up 158 fewer points this season compared to a year ago, with 12 more interceptions and 12 more sacks.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked about the Saints’ defensive improvement.
“They want to create havoc for the offense and they’ve got good players,” he said.
• Former Vikings fullback Zach Line is now with the Saints and rushed for a touchdown in their 31-26 victory over Carolina in a wild-card playoff game Sunday. “This game is going to be personal to me,” Line told NOLA.com. “I don’t have any bad feelings toward Minnesota. I thought I had a great career there, but this is the playoffs. The Saints are my team.”
• Vikings guard Nick Easton will be out against the Saints because of a broken ankle. Gerald Hodges, who the Vikings traded to San Francisco because of disciplinary reasons to acquire Easton, will be playing for the Saints. Hodges, a linebacker, has made three tackles in 11 games. With Easton out and center Pat Elflein back, Jeremiah Sirles most likely will start at left guard.
• Saints defensive lineman Cameron Jordan is the son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan and was born in Minneapolis. Steve played here from 1982-94 and made six consecutive Pro Bowls.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. E-mail: email@example.com