Unless the Vikings plan to play an 8-1 defense, chances are they're keeping a very close eye on the free agent linebacker market with two of their 2011 starters -- Erin and E.J. Henderson -- still unsigned.

The problem is the market is taking especially long to settle for some talented young linebackers such as Atlanta's Curtis Lofton, 25, Detroit's Stephen Tulloch, 27, and Erin Henderson, 25. 

The Vikings want Erin back because of his age and upside. But the Vikings also have virtually pushed him into the street while encouraging him to shop around, see what he's worth and then return to talk some realistic financial compensation. If you follow Erin via Twitter at 50@ErinHenderson, that's not sitting too well with him.

"In a nutshell ... market value and franchise value aren't always going to match. If someone can play 3 positions 4 u, their value has to go up," Erin wrote a couple days ago. He's since tweeted about how he produced more in his one season as a starter than did his predecessor, Ben Leber.

In other words, it's not getting any prettier between Erin and the Vikings.

The team hasn't ruled out E.J., according to General Manager Rick Spielman. While it was surprising to hear Spielman say that, it wouldn't be all that bad a move, especially when it's obvious the team has no plans to be a major player in free agency.

Yes, Henderson will be 32 in August. Yes, he has a titanium rod in one leg and has been beat to heck in his nine NFL seasons. But he's also a strong team leader that probably could be signed to a relatively cheap one-year deal. Let's not forget that E.J.'s heir apparent, Jasper Brinkley, is coming off major hip surgery after missing all of last season. And it's probably safe to say Erin would be more open to returning to the Vikings if E.J. were around for another season.

There are younger, better options at middle linebacker in free agency. But they reportedly are holding out for the kind of payday that nobody seems willing to pay at this point.

Lofton wants $9 million a year, which might be why there hasn't been any news on him visiting anywhere. Tulloch reportedly wants at least what the Browns gave D'Qwell Jackson, which was $42.5 million over five years. Only the Saints have reportedly had Tulloch in for a visit.

Seattle's David Hawthorne, 26, is another middle linebacker that you'd think would be getting more interest. He's reportedly visiting the Lions, which could be a ploy by Detroit to get Tulloch to lower his price.

It's too early for Vikings fans to panic about the linebacker position. But it's unlikely that a team with as many holes to fill as the Vikings have will be drafting a linebacker (or two) high enough to count on him (them) starting in 2012. So it would appear the team either needs to sign one or two Hendersons or starting kicking the tires on some of these other free-agent LBers.

Update: Per the NFL's Jason LaCanfora, free agent fullback Jerome Felton will visit the Vikings.

Felton, 25, is a player the Vikings tried to claim off waivers last September, but lost out to the Panthers. Felton played in nine games for Carolina, got released and then played five games for the Colts.

The Vikings are trying hard to upgrade their lead-blocker position. Ryan D'Imperio, who played linebacker in college, and tight end Jim Kleinsasser handled the position last season.

Sunday night, the Vikings signed former Dolphins fullback Lex Hilliard. 

Meanwhile, as for the Tim Tebow questions, no, no, no, a thousand times no; the team won't be pursuing Tebow, who will be traded now that the Broncos have signed Peyton Manning. The irony for a 3-13 team that's had its share of decades with no long-term plan at quarterback is that quarterback is now the only position in which the long-term plan is solid.  

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