The Vikings are in a sticky situation in regards to the linebacker position. They return one starter from last years mediocre group in Chad Greenway. A series of injuries to other players lifted Greenway to his first ever Pro-Bowl. He did finish the year 3rd in the NFL in tackles, unfortunately, he failed to make that many splash plays. The other two starters from last year were E.J. and Erin Henderson. Both are set to become unrestricted free agents and it is highly unlikely the Vikings will keep both. E.J.’s age and nagging injuries finally caught up to him and he has little to no chance of returning. Losing his talents on the field won’t be Minnesota’s main concern, it will be his loss in the locker room. E.J. was a leader on defense and that role will have to be filled by someone else starting 2012. This brings us to the next Henderson, Erin. He likely won’t sign an extension with the Vikings before Free Agency starts, but he does have a chance to return. Minnesota will probably make him an offer but let him shop around. If that price can match his production, then he may be on the roster for 2012 but won’t be guaranteed a starting position. Kenny Onatolu is scheduled to be a restricted FA and will get a qualifying offer but his value is as a special team player. Larry Dean is  the other linebacker returning, but he is entering his second year and is not a viable NFL starter.

Minnesota heads into Free Agency and the NFL Draft with only one of their starting linebacker positions secured, the rest have giant question marks next to them. Before Jasper Brinkley’s hip surgery last year, he was supposed to challenge Erin as the starting weak side linebacker. He has shown he can hit and hit hard but he will need to cover better if he wants to become a starter. However, the Vikings don’t want to enter training camp with him penciled in as the primary starter. It is possible the Vikes will dip into free agency and make a run at a big name LB such as Curtis Lofton. Lofton is poised for a big payday and is only 25 years old (26 when the season starts). Odds are Atlanta will do whatever they can to retain Lofton but he would fit the Vikings needs perfectly. That may be a pipe dream and the options after him get slimmer and slimmer. The draft is a possibility but the 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks may be used to shore up the offensive line, secondary, and receivers, respectively. The most realistic option is to sign a few middle tier free agents (Joe Mays or Ernie Sims perhaps?) at a reasonable price and hope competition breeds success. I know that the secondary may need the largest make over, but fans should put a microscope on the situation at linebacker as well.

Under Contract: Jasper Brinkley, Larry Dean, Chad Greenway

Vikings Free Agents: Kenny Onatolu (restricted), Xavier Adibi, E.J. Henderson, Erin Henderson

Possible NFL Free Agents: 

Top Tier: Curtis Lofton (ATL), Anthony Spencer (DAL), Stephen Tulloch (DET), Dan Connor (CAR), London Fletcher (WAS), Mario Williams (HOU), E.J. Henderson (MIN)

Other Linebackers: Clark Haggans (ARZ), Brendon Ayanbadejo (BAL), Jarret Johnson (BAL), Andra Davis (BUF), Kirk Morrison (BUF), Reggie Torbor (BUF), Brian Iwuh (CHI), Manny Lawson (CIN), D’Qwell Jackson (CLE), Keith Brooking (DAL), Bradie James (DAL), Mario Haggan (DEN), Joe Mays (DEN), Wesley Woodyard (DEN), Bobby Carpenter (DET), Isaiah Ekejiuba (DET), Erik Walden (GB), Ernie Sims (IND), Philip Wheeler (IND), Ikaika Alama-Francis (MIA), Jason Taylor (MIA), Xavier Adibi (MIN), Erin Henderson (MIN), Gary Guyton (NE), Tracy White (NE), Jonathan Goff (NYG), Bryan Thomas (NYJ), Darryl Blackstock (OAK), Quentin Groves (OAK), Stephen Cooper (SD), Na’il Diggs (SD), David Hawthorne (SEA), Matt McCoy (SEA), Ahmad Brooks (SF), Blake Costanzo (SF), Tavares Gooden (SF), Larry Grant (SF), Chris Chamberlain (STL), Bryan Kehl (STL), Ben Leber (STL), Brady Poppinga (STL), Geno Hayes (TB), Patrick Bailey (TEN), Barrett Ruud (TEN), Tim Shaw (TEN), Rocky McIntosh (WAS)

Top NFL Draft Prospects: OUTSIDE LB- Zach Brown (UNC), Ronnell Lewis (OU), Lavonte David (NEB), Chase Thomas (STAN) Travis Lewis (OU), Danny Trevathan (UK), Sean Spence (MIA), Emmanuel Acho (TEX), Bobby Wagner (UTAH ST), Nigel Bradham (FSU) INSIDE LB- Luke Kuechly (BC), Vontaze Burfict (ASU), Dont’a Hightower (BAMA), Audie Cole (NC), Jerry Franklin (ARK), Kevin Reddick (UNC), Tank Carder (TCU), Carmen Messina (NM), J.K. Schaffer (CIN), Chris Marve (VANDY)

  • Be sure to check out our other installments of Vikings Off-season Outlook: QB/HB – WR/TE – OL – DLLBCB/S