Free-agent offensive lineman Nick Easton is leaving the Vikings to sign with the New Orleans Saints.
Easton’s agent, Joe Linta, announced on Twitter on Sunday night that his client agreed to a four-year contract. A source said the deal is worth approximately $24 million.
A source told the Pioneer Press on Friday that the Vikings had extended a contract offer to Easton, who made $2.914 million last season. A source said Saturday that Easton would decide by Monday between the Vikings, the Saints and an unnamed team.
Easton started at left guard for the Vikings in 2017 before missing all of last season following neck surgery in August. He also plays center, which is where he likely will be with the Saints, who lost Pro Bowl center Max Unger on Saturday to retirement.
Unger’s departure cleared up about $7 million in salary-cap room for the Saints, giving them space to make a significant offer on Easton. The Vikings offered Easton a raise over last season but they have salary-cap issues and couldn’t compete with the offer from New Orleans. The Vikings have only about $6 million available under the cap.
Easton had been with the Vikings since being acquired in a trade from Denver in October 2015, his rookie season. He started five games for them at center in 2016 and started all 12 of the games he played in 2017 at left guard.
The Vikings now could turn their attention to guard Josh Kline, who was released last week by Tennessee. A source said Sunday they have interest in Kline and he could take a visit to Minnesota as soon as this week.
Kline played with New England from 2013-15 and was with the Titans the last three seasons. Kline, who made $2.5 million last season, started 46 of the games he played with Tennessee.
The only guard on Minnesota’s roster is Danny Isidora, who has started three games in his first two seasons. The Vikings last week released Mike Remmers, last season’s starter at right guard. Last year’s starter at left guard, Tom Compton, is a free agent.
Sometimes when you make a decision, it’s called a no-brainer when it was an easy call. When the Saints signed former Vikings guard and center Nick Easton late Sunday evening, Mar 17, that move is one we can comfortably call a brainer.
The jig is up on the whole super, double top-secret mission to pretend the retirement of Max Unger was a surprise to anybody on the Saints roster or in their front office. Unger has admitted now that he let everybody know what was happening over a month ago. As I noted at the time, Unger isn’t the type to make a spontaneous, life-changing move like that, nor is he inconsiderate enough to not alert his employer and friends.
And, as I also noted at the time Unger’s retirement was announced, the Saints already had somebody lined up to “interview” for the job. The fact that Nick Easton was in New Orleans, seemingly by teleporter he arrived so fast, and ready to interview means that the Saints had every bit the confidence that he was the move.
For some reason, many in the national media haven’t picked up on the fact that they were duped. When word first came out that the Saints would be interviewing Nick Easton he was talked about as a guard. Just yesterday I heard an ESPN talking head opine about whether Easton would handle the transition to center well.
Easton is a center. That’s the position he plays. He transitioned to guard for the 2017 Season and played well there. One season at guard. In high school at Hibriten in Lenoir, North Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Easton played center. During his college career at Harvard, Easton was twice voted First-team All-Ivy League (2013, 2014) playing at center. He went undrafted in 2015 and was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens.
Chalk Nick Easton up as a believer in love at first sight.
The free agent offensive lineman visited the New Orleans Saints last Thursday (March 14), a few days before veteran center Max Unger would announce his retirement, and immediately felt he was in the place he was supposed to be.
The city and the Saints facility made a mark. The team’s reputation for putting a solid offensive line on the field year after year preceded itself, as did the general history of offensive success. The coaching staff’s charisma and knowledge leapt out.
This would be a good place to call home for the next four years. “An awesome fit,” Easton said.
Wednesday (March 20), the Saints officially announced Easton’s signing. He is expected to slide into the position Unger occupied on the New Orleans offensive line for the last four seasons.
Though only six of his 17 career starts have come at center — with most of the other 11 coming at left guard for the Minnesota Vikings — Easton feels that is his most natural position. It is the position he played both in high school and at Harvard University.
With the Saints having established starters at the other four positions of the line, most of Easton’s conversations with the team have placed him at center.
“But I’ve got to get down there first, I’ve got to get a playbook in my hand and shake everybody’s hand first … before we talk about where exactly I’m going to fit in,” Easton said.
Easton has not played in an NFL game since December 2017, when his second season with the Vikings ended prematurely with a fractured ankle. A bulging disc in his neck forced him to spend the entirety of the 2018 season on injured reserve.
He said he has since recovered from the neck injury, having clearly passed a Saints physical to make the signing official. The goal throughout his process coming back from the injury was to be cleared before the start of free agency, and Easton said he hit that mark “head on” a few weeks before the signing period opened.
“I feel really good,” Easton said. “It was definitely a long road to recovery for that, but this game’s got a lot of highs and lows and it’s feeling good to come back up to the top now.”
Now that he is officially a member of the Saints, he is looking forward to establishing a relationship with quarterback Drew Brees, whom Easton called “a legend.” Easton already has a rapport with No. 2 Teddy Bridgewater, having snapped the ball to Bridgewater while they were teammates in Minnesota.
Easton is also eagerly anticipating getting to work with an offensive line that saw every member of the starting five either earn Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors last season.
“You see the guys and the production that they have, it’s pretty obvious that is a huge selling point for this team,” Easton said.
The official signing prompted a change to Easton’s Wikipedia page, which now lists him as a member of the Saints. That, by the way, is only mentioned as a way to get to one of the more colorful aspects of the page.
The last sentence of the “Early years” section of Easton’s Wikipedia page reads as follows: “Nearly all of Easton’s athletic success can be attributed to the mental toughness he was forced to develop after being dominated for many years in driveway basketball by elder brother, Jon Easton.”
Easton laughed at the reference when it was brought on in a teleconference Wednesday. That addition was made by his brother at least as long ago as August 2017, when it was referenced in a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article.
The Harvard graduate used it as a cautionary tale for any scholars who may use the site as a reference.
“Let that be a lesson to all the teachers and everybody else out there, the students who are writing papers, that Wikipedia may not be a credible source,” Easton said. “… (Jon Easton) actually told me at Thanksgiving this year that it’s been in there so long that I don’t think you can edit it out if you wanted to. It’s there to stay.”