In case you missed it, I did a big roster breakdown for Sunday’s paper where I went through the 53-man roster and injured reserve and made my best guesses at who will be back in 2016 and who will be gone.
One of the toughest calls was outside linebacker Chad Greenway.
Greenway is an all-timer here with the Vikings. Not only has he been a standout defender over the past decade, he has exuded class, whether it was on the field, in the locker room or in the Twin Cities community.
His 68 tackles in 2015 were a career low, but I actually thought he played better than he did in 2014, his first year in Mike Zimmer’s system.
He started the season off with a reduced role as the third linebacker. But he ended up playing nearly 60 percent of the snaps due to injuries to Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. The fact that he usually wasn’t an every-down player affected his tackle total, but I think the lesser load helped him.
Now Greenway, who turned 33 last week, is a free agent. The past two offseasons, he took pay cuts to remain with the Vikings. And he had made it clear that he wants to play one more season in Minnesota.
Zimmer had nothing but praise for Greenway after the season ended.
“I love Chad. I hope things work out for him. He’s a great Viking,” Zimmer said last week. “I sat and talked to him for a while [last Monday]. I think his leadership is immense in the locker room, especially with a young football team. I think he took active ownership in the role that he had this year, so I hope it works out. He’s always going to be one of my kind of guys.”
The head coach stopped short of saying, though, that he thought Greenway could be an effective player in a starting role again in 2016.
If the Vikings don’t see Greenway as a starter anymore, would it make sense for either party for him to return as reserve? Would his leadership be enough to justify taking a roster spot from a young, developing linebacker and giving it to Greenway? Would he want to return as a backup? Is he cool with playing on special teams? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but they’re something to think about.
The fans who are in favor of Greenway returning are quick to bring up the leadership factor, the impact of which is hard to quantify. But it is time for ascending Vikings defenders such as safety Harrison Smith, outside linebacker Anthony Barr and others to assume larger leadership roles.
Another thing to consider is where Kendricks fits in the future.
It was an up-and-down season for Kendricks, who became an every-down middle linebacker in October. But he showed promise as a rookie. That being said, after the Vikings drafted Kendricks last spring, Zimmer said he could ultimately wind up at weak-side linebacker, Greenway’s spot.
Kendricks is undersized at middle linebacker and Zimmer prefers bigger players at that position, though he has an affinity for former Cowboy Dat Nguyen, who like Kendricks was 5-foot-11 and around 235 pounds.
The Vikings could opt to move on from Greenway, slide Kendricks over and look to bring in more of a thumper to handle early-down Mike work.
So where would that leave Greenway? He obviously would prefer to finish his career here, but he has said he would be receptive to playing elsewhere if the Vikings don’t want him back. This is just a hunch, but I think it would have to be a special opportunity for him to actually don new colors.
It is going to be interesting to see how things play out with Greenway. I projected that he wouldn’t be back, but I’m not ruling out a return.