Jasper Brinkley did everything the Vikings asked him to do this past season, though it wasn’t a ton.
Brinkley was the starting middle linebacker in the team’s base defense, but while he played in all 16 games, he only played 42.5 percent of the defensive snaps. Third cornerback Josh Robinson and reserve linebacker Gerald Hodges, who ended up starting seven games due to injury, played more.
“I was happy with the opportunities I was given,” Brinkley said last week. “It’s all I could ask for.”
Brinkley got the job done as a run stuffer on early downs. He made 75 tackles and forced a fumble while finishing the season as Pro Football Focus’ eighth-ranked middle linebacker against the run.
For what the Vikings paid him — $830,000 total in salary and bonuses — Brinkley was a bargain.
But at the same time, the Vikings could be looking to upgrade at the position. Brinkley is one of only two starters who are slated to become free agents (fullback Jerome Felton will be the other once he opts out of his contract). And with veteran outside linebacker Chad Greenway possibly on the way out of town depending on how things go this offseason, linebacker will again be an area of need.
Brinkley came off the field in passing situations when the Vikings trotted out their nickel personnel. Greenway and top 2014 draft pick Anthony Barr were the two linebackers in that package.
But if the Vikings can find a three-down middle linebacker who can cover, something they didn’t trust Brinkley to do, they could take care of two birds with one stone. That player could be in the middle on early downs and then stay on the field with Barr in the nickel package when teams have to pass.
Of course, finding the next Navorro Bowman, Bobby Wagner or Luke Kuechly won’t be easy.
While Brinkley said as he cleaned out his locker that “everybody wants to be an every-down guy,” he is also a team player who is aware of his limitations (and will continue to work hard to try to keep them from being limitations in the future). And even if the Vikings decide to replace Brinkley as a starter, there may still be a role for him as a reserve here, where he started his career in 2009.
“[We’ll] just see where it goes, man,” Brinkley, who turns 30 this summer, said when asked about his future. “See where the wind blows. Hopefully it’s back here again, because I have a lot of ties to this place. It’s where I was drafted as a rookie. I’ve played a fair amount of football here.”