By Joseph Gunther

The Minnesota Vikings added offensive line depth when they acquired center Nick Easton from the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for linebacker Gerald Hodges Jr. on Tuesday. The Vikings also get a sixth round draft pick in the deal.

The Vikings have had issues with their offensive line this season, especially in their two road games. Injuries to right tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan depleted the depth and veteran leadership in the starting lineup. When the season began, only left tackle Matt Kalil started in his same position in 2014 as he did in this season’s opener. Easton, an undrafted rookie out of Harvard, signed with the Baltimore Ravens following the draft. In the preseason, he was graded by Pro Football Focus as the league’s best center, Easton was traded from the Ravens to the 49ers but has been listed as inactive for all four games this season for San Francisco.

“We tried to sign him after the draft. He played very well in the preseason,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “We’ve monitored him when he was with the Ravens, and I believe San Francisco traded for him at the 53-man cut because they had some injuries at that position.”

Hodges started 10 games since the beginning of the 2014 season. He had 20 tackles and one pass defensed in four games (three starts) this season. But, he became expendable because of the young depth the team has at linebacker. Spielman noted the development of rookies Eric Kendricks and Edmond Robinson as well as their confidence in Audie Cole.

“I think Gerald has played very well for us. It’s shown up on tape. He’s grown up tremendously,” Spielman said. “Sometimes these are difficult decisions, but when you have depth and youth at a position, and you can make a move from a business perspective on getting your team better when you have extra pieces to move, I think you always have to look at those.”

The draft pick acquired along with Easton will essentially replace the sixth round draft pick the Vikings sent to the San Diego Chargers for offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles at the end of the preseason.

DT Joseph does more than can be found in the boxscore

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph only has 12 tackles and one pass defensed through the first four games of the season. However, despite the numbers, Joseph may be one of the team’s defensive MVP’s.

“Linval continues to play well,” head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday during his weekly press conference. “You know, one thing about him that I’m very impressed with is that, I hope that our whole football team gets this mentality, he does an awful lot of dirty work that doesn’t show up in the stat book. He allows other guys to make plays, he makes plays but he allows other guys to make plays, and that’s what I’m trying to teach this football team.

The Vikings signed Joseph as an unrestricted free agent in 2014 to a five-year contract. According to Spotrac.com, Joseph is the fifth highest paid player on the team, second among defenders.

Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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