MINNEAPOLIS -- Brian O’Neill is staying with the Minnesota Vikings for the foreseeable future.
After saying earlier this offseason that he wanted to remain with the organization, the 25-year-old right tackle signed a big contract extension Wednesday. It’s a 5-year, $95 million contract extension, according to ESPN insider Adam Schefter, which makes O’Neill among the highest-paid players in the NFL at his position.
“It means a lot that they believe in me,” O’Neill said. “At the same time, it means I have to go prove it. Just like I had to go prove it when they drafted me. I’ve got to prove them right. They believe in me like they did three years ago. But it’s time to go prove them right again. The chip just gets bigger.”
Asked about the negotiation process, O’Neill said he was out of the loop for most of it. His agent did most of the talking with general manager Rick Spielman before the sides came to an agreement. The only thing O’Neill made abundantly clear over the past few weeks is how much he wanted to stay with the Vikings.
“I’ve known that for a long time,” he said. “The people we have in this building, everybody around here, I just want to be a part of it. And I’m happy to be a part of it. There was never really a doubt as to whether or not something was going to work or not in my mind because this is where I want to be. I want to be a Viking for my whole career.”
This is a big moment for O’Neill considering he was widely regarded as a project player when the Vikings selected him in the second round of the 2018 draft. He since has developed into a stalwart lineman after getting thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie.
These days, the 6-foot-7, 310-pound O’Neill is the unquestioned leader on the offensive line. He takes pride in that role and has gone out of his way to make sure players like left guard Ezra Cleveland and right guard Oli Udoh feel comfortable stepping into the starting lineup.
“He probably didn’t know what he was getting himself into (as a rookie) and he stepped in and did a great job picking up everything,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “We have some guys on the line that’s going to step up this year and make some plays for us, and B.O.’s going to help those guys come along. He’s been doing it all OTAs and training camp. Just getting those guys ready and letting them know what we expect of them as a Vikings organization.”
Think of it as O’Neill paying it forward after former Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff took him under his wing back when he joined the team. Coincidentally, Reiff now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals, meaning O’Neill will get to see him at Sunday’s season opener at Paul Brown Stadium.
In addition to Reiff, the other player O’Neill credits for his growth as a player is star defensive end Danielle Hunter.
“He pushes me every day to get a lot better,” O’Neill said. “The intensity he brings and the energy he brings to practice is contagious. It makes me a lot better being able to go against him every day.”
That’s something the coaching staff has noticed, too, as O’Neill has made big strides over the past few seasons.
“He’s a really, really good football player,” co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said of O’Neill. “I think it’s helped him throughout his career who he’s had to go against every day in practice. Just having to go against Danielle and having to go against Everson (Griffen), I think those guys helped him out a lot. When he goes into the games on Sunday, he’s not seeing that caliber of guy every Sunday. I think he’s a good player, and I think it’s all still in front of him. He’s still going to continue to get better and better.”
As for O’Neill, he said he hasn’t really had a chance to reflect on his journey to this point. There will be time for reflection down the road.
“We have about three days until we play a game, so that’s kind of more of what I’m focused on now,” O’Neill said. “We get to go out and play a game. That’s probably the coolest part of this whole week. Just that football is back. I love the group we have, and I’m excited to go down to Cincinnati and rip it with the boys.”