Ben Leber has been a starting linebacker for the Vikings for the past five seasons, but the nine-year veteran admits he isn't sure if he will return to the team when the NFL lockout ends.
"The reality is if they were really, really wanting me back then maybe something would have been said before the lockout," said Leber, who will be an unrestricted free agent. "I had a good meeting with Coach [Leslie] Frazier and [vice president of player personnel Rick] Spielman at the end of the year. Each side expressed how much I’d like to be here and finish my career here. I am hopeful and hope that I can come back and be a Viking again. But I’m also a realist and I’ve been through this process before. It’s not always up to you and you have to be willing to move on.”
Leber signed with the Vikings as a free agent in 2006 after spending his first four seasons in San Diego. However, in that case, he was able to shop his services and sign in March. The lockout has meant that free agency has yet to start and when it does it's going to be a short and very busy period.
“I get a little anxiety about it," said Leber, who held his annual football camp at St. Thomas University last week. "I do wonder how it’s all going to play out, and I’m a little worried about how crazy it’s going to be. Thinking about it from a family perspective. Having a newborn at home [a 3-month old son] and how is that going to play out? Am I going to be gone traveling maybe team-to-team looking for a potential place to play?
"Is it going to be one of those things where you sign on the dotted line and you go to training camp the next day and be gone for another month? All those things my wife and I have talked about and at the end of the conversation we’re just like, ‘Well, we don’t know. We can’t sit here and waste time speculating.’ So I guess whatever happens, happens and we’ll roll with it when we get there.”
Leber is from Vermillion, S.D., and has made it clear that he and his wife, Abby, enjoy living in the Twin Cities with their two children.
The Vikings will have to consider how much money they want to put toward the linebacker position. Chad Greenway likely will be an unrestricted free agent under the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Vikings already placed the franchise tag on Greenway, meaning he will stand to make about $10 million if that tag is still available under the new CBA. No matter what happens, the Vikings certainly will look to get Greenway signed long term.
However, there could be an argument made that the lockout increases Leber's chance of staying in Minnesota. One reason is because retaining Leber would mean keeping a valuable veteran who knows the team's defensive system and is considered a leader. That could be key given the lockout has wiped out offseason work and each organization is going to want to create as much stability as possible.
“I’d like to think that philosophy does play out and that would be great for me and hopefully great for the Vikings," he said. "I don’t know what they’re thinking. Maybe that works in some situations and maybe not mine. I think there’s got to be a benefit [from the] fact I do know the system, I know basically the whole staff even though we brought in some new guys. So I’d like to think there’s a lot of positives there.”