Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.

Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.

Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

What to do with defensive free agents: Vikings linebacker situation needs addressing

Posted by: under Vikings, Lions, Chad Greenway, Vikings draft Updated: February 19, 2013 - 11:30 AM

The NFL Combine officially gets underway Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. And while the hype of the event will center mostly around the 40-yard dash times, bench press reps and shuttle runs of the more than 300 draft prospects invited to participate, some of the most significant action of the week occurs behind the scenes as NFL general managers and front office personnel meet with agents to begin discussing the approach of free agency.

At this stage, league rules state that teams are only allowed to talk with the agents of their own players. So with the Vikings needing to make decisions on 10 unrestricted free agents who are scheduled to hit the open market March 12, here’s our quick update on where we think things might be headed.

Today, we look at the team’s four defensive free agents. (And in case you missed it, here’s Monday’s look at the Vikings’ UFAs on offense.)

Jasper Brinkley

The preseason worries that Brinkley might be a major liability up the middle of the defense didn’t last long. After shaking off the rust in the preseason, Brinkley put his 2011 hip injury behind him and quickly flashed his strengths as a guy who can get downhill in a hurry and be a solid force against the run. His 117 tackles ranked third on the team behind Chad Greenway (191) and Harrison Smith (129). But it didn’t help that the 27-year-old Brinkley saw his effectiveness dip when he was asked to play extended snaps as the Vikings’ MLB in nickel packages. By season’s end Erin Henderson had reclaimed those responsibilities and Brinkley hadn’t lessened worries that he has deficiencies dropping in to coverage.

The likely move: In order to take the next step as a defense, the Vikings will need to find a number 2 linebacker who can fully complement Greenway. And they certainly need to find a guy who can have maximum productivity playing every down. So now, with Brinkley, Henderson and Marvin Mitchell all nearing free agency, the team faces the risk of losing three of its top four linebackers from 2012. It’s unlikely all three players will get away. In fact, it would not be a surprise if at least two of them are back. But the Vikings will also assess what could be available for them in free agency and the draft. In other words: the final decision on Brinkley depends on several other moving parts.

Erin Henderson

Déjà vu. Henderson was an unrestricted free agent last year, too. But it took 10 days after the market opened for him to re-sign with the Vikings. Henderson was peeved at that time that he hadn’t been offered a bigger pay day – by anyone. But the Vikings did the right thing in allowing the market to set the appropriate price. What resulted was a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.45 million. Henderson hoped to then have a big 2012 season and land a much, much bigger deal. So here we are again. Who knows how much last year’s foray into free agency has altered Henderson’s mindset? But he best be realistic with what he’s worth as he seeks out his best opportunity.

The likely move: Henderson’s 2012 stats: 112 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble. He was solid overall. But Patrick Willis he is not. And he still suffers from moments when, in his own words, his eyes get too big and he tries to make plays that either aren’t his to make or just aren’t there. (See: the 5-yard touchdown catch Green Bay’s Greg Jennings made in Week 17 with Henderson inexplicably releasing Jennings to run uncovered into the end zone.) As we mentioned, Henderson is one of three Viking linebackers headed for free agency. So all three of their situations will in some way be intertwined. Brinkley and Henderson are both represented by Sportstars, Inc., which theoretically should eliminate some of the guesswork on that side of things for how the Vikings are viewing the pecking order. Right now, Brinkley may get the edge as a better bargain. But it’s also quite possible Henderson is brought back.

Jamarca Sanford

One of the surprise contributors of 2012 should see his hard work and high energy rewarded. After losing his starting job as a safety in training camp, Sanford returned to that role in Week 4 after Mistral Raymond dislocated his ankle. And the 27-year-old Sanford started the rest of the way – though he did finish the season sharing time with Raymond. He’s still a bit small (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) and sometimes deficient in pass coverage. But Sanford compensates for his handicaps with his work ethic.

The likely move: The Vikings’ long-term plan seems to be for Raymond to emerge full-time as the second starting safety alongside Harrison Smith. But Sanford’s value as dependable depth should not be taken for granted. While he may never ascend to be a major playmaker, he’s exactly the kind of player the Vikings coaching staff and front office wants to build around. He’s unselfish, he’s low maintenance, he’s passionate and he’s willing to invest to get better.  Add into the equation that he’s always been a terrific special teams player and there has to be a spot open for Sanford to come back. In fact, safety and running back are probably the two positions the Vikings could afford to leave untouched as they transition from 2012 into 2013.

Marvin Mitchell

With Henderson sidelined by a concussion in September, Mitchell started twice and aided solid defensive performances in wins over the 49ers and Lions. He was also a dependable contributor on special teams. It’s no secret that the Vikings depth at linebacker right now is average at best. With Brinkley, Henderson and Mitchell all approaching free agency, that leaves Chad Greenway, Tyrone McKenzie, Larry Dean and Audie Cole as the only linebackers signed for 2013.

The likely move: Of all the Vikings UFAs, Mitchell’s case shouldn’t draw much more than a shrug and an “Hey, either way” reaction. Like offensive lineman Joe Berger, if he returns great. And if he doesn’t, his spot shouldn’t be difficult to fill. Mitchell would love to come back if it’s the right situation. And he seemed to fit in well within the locker room in 2012. Henderson and Brinkley will be the first pieces of the linebacker puzzle that need to be figured out. But Mitchell would be an easy guy to keep in the mix.


Atlanta 6 FINAL
Detroit 4
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
Houston 6
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Miami 1
Baltimore 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Chicago Cubs 6 FINAL
San Francisco 8
Los Angeles 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox 1
San Diego 4 FINAL
Seattle 9
Cleveland 9 FINAL
Cincinnati 3
Milwaukee 2 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Texas 4 FINAL
Kansas City 5
Colorado 3 FINAL
Arizona 4
Washington 5
Boston 8 Bottom 6th Inning
Minnesota 8
Toronto 0 Top 8th Inning
Baltimore 5
Oklahoma City 50 3rd Qtr
Chicago 48
Dallas 9:30 PM
Calgary 3 3rd Prd
Boston 3
St. Louis 1 FINAL
Philadelphia 3
Minnesota 2 3rd Prd 2:25
Washington 1
Toronto 1 3rd Prd 17:33
Tampa Bay 2
Dallas 2 3rd Prd 19:16
Florida 3
NY Islanders 2 2nd Prd 1:10
Nashville 1
Vancouver 0 1st Prd 5:38
Arizona 0
Montreal 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Morgan State 76 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 89
Niagara 54 FINAL
Siena 71
Holy Cross 83 FINAL
Bucknell 90
Western Ky 88 FINAL
Charlotte 84
Navy 62 FINAL
Colgate 72
Temple 70 FINAL
East Carolina 56
Fla Atlantic 62
Boston Univ 64 FINAL
Lafayette 89
American Univ 68 FINAL
Lehigh 62
Wisconsin 76 FINAL
Minnesota 63
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Saint Peters 63
Arkansas 78 FINAL
South Carolina 74
Morehead State 76 FINAL
UT Martin 65
USC Upstate 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 62
Lipscomb 57 FINAL
North Florida 71
Southern Ill 55 FINAL
Missouri State 48
Texas State 64 2nd Half 0:13
Appalachian St 67
SC State 49 2nd Half 7:22
Bethune-Cookman 57
Delaware State 93 2nd Half 1:51
Coppin State 83
Middle Tennessee 54 FINAL
FIU 59
Texas-Arlington 64 2nd Half 1:00
Ga Southern 74
Norfolk State 65 2nd Half 6:32
Hampton 58
NC A&T 50 2nd Half 5:45
NC Central 54
Savannah State 28 2nd Half 20:00
Florida A&M 23
Southern Miss 43 2nd Half 9:11
Louisiana Tech 54
Marshall 42 2nd Half 7:21
Old Dominion 56
Rice 68 2nd Half 3:12
TX-San Antonio 66
South Alabama 47 2nd Half
Arkansas State 33
Alabama State 18 1st Half 9:50
Grambling St 8
Alabama A&M 19 1st Half 5:00
Jackson State 31
Sam Houston St 17 1st Half 8:00
Lamar 12
Georgia State 29 2nd Half 16:21
ULM 37
Central Arkansas 24 2nd Half 20:00
Nicholls 40
Portland State 23 2nd Half
Northern Ariz 22
Southern U 17 1st Half 9:35
Prairie View 20
Alcorn State 21 1st Half 5:00
Texas Southern 33
Houston Baptist 29 2nd Half
TX A&M-CC 46
Ark-Little Rock 27 2nd Half
Louisiana 32
SE Louisiana 26 1st Half 8:10
New Orleans 22
California 14 1st Half 10:01
Arizona 25
Memphis 22 1st Half 6:04
Connecticut 12
VA Commonwealth 9 1st Half 10:15
Davidson 21
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Sacramento St 25 1st Half 5:35
Southern Utah 24
Northwestern St 20 1st Half 9:20
Stephen F Austin 31
North Texas 18 1st Half 5:26
Texas-El Paso 33
Colorado 24 1st Half 4:03
Washington 11
Idaho 15 1st Half 7:48
Weber State 21
Abilene Christian 4 1st Half 18:00
Incarnate Word 0
Eastern Wash 31 1st Half 3:52
Idaho State 25
Marist 18 1st Half 11:52
Quinnipiac 14
Eastern Ill 2 1st Half 14:51
Belmont 15
Bradley 8:35 PM
Cal State Fullerton 9:00 PM
UC Irvine
CS-Northridge 9:00 PM
Long Beach State
UC Riverside 9:00 PM
UC Davis
Stanford 10:00 PM
Arizona State
Utah 10:00 PM
Washington St
Monmouth 68 FINAL
Canisius 56
Wake Forest 85 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 79
Saint Louis 65 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 58
Saint Peters 62 FINAL
Rider 54
UNC-Asheville 51 FINAL
Liberty 59
UNC Greensboro 44 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 78
Michigan State 69 FINAL
Michigan 49
Arkansas 72 FINAL
Ole Miss 61
Manhattan 51 FINAL
Niagara 57
Massachusetts 63 FINAL
Richmond 67
Virginia 52 FINAL
Miami-Florida 62
Jacksonville St 45 FINAL
Belmont 55
Morgan State 65 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 50
Campbell 65 FINAL
Winthrop 52
Furman 65 FINAL
Samford 54
Oregon 64 FINAL
Washington St 66
Indiana 52 FINAL
(23) Rutgers 63
Pepperdine 67 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 68
Auburn 47 FINAL
(18) Texas A&M 57
Morehead St 66 FINAL
Tennessee St 81
George Mason 43 FINAL
Saint Josephs 71
Western Carolina 53 FINAL
East Tenn St 73
Arizona 62 FINAL
Texas State 55 FINAL
Appalachian St 61
TX-Arlington 66 FINAL
Georgia Southern 41
SC State 57 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 56
Delaware State 51 FINAL
Coppin State 80
Portland 58 FINAL
Santa Clara 66
Norfolk State 49 FINAL
Hampton 64
Florida Atlantic 56 FINAL
UAB 59
NC Central 46
Savannah State 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 51
Virginia Tech 51 FINAL
Pittsburgh 45
Central Arkansas 43 FINAL
Nicholls 53
Houston Baptist 48 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 73
Gardner-Webb 70 FINAL
Radford 56
Georgia 75 FINAL
Missouri 64
Old Dominion 67 FINAL
Marshall 55
Ark-Little Rock 68 FINAL
Louisiana 66
South Alabama 60 FINAL
Arkansas State 70
Georgia State 66 FINAL
ULM 61
Sam Houston St 73 FINAL
Lamar 92
SE Louisiana 75 FINAL
New Orleans 84
Northwestern St 45 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 56
Alabama A&M 58 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Alabama State 68 FINAL
Grambling 62
Southern U 78 FINAL
Prairie View 50
Alcorn State 55 FINAL
Texas Southern 73
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Wofford 54 FINAL
Mercer 75
Abilene Christian 72 FINAL
Incarnate Word 62
La Salle 60 FINAL
Rhode Island 65
Illinois 71 FINAL
Nebraska 86
TX-San Antonio 60 FINAL
Rice 49
Valparaiso 55 FINAL
Oakland 70
Missouri State 65 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Georgia Tech 36 2nd Half 17:21
(15) North Carolina 41
Presbyterian 33 2nd Half
High Point 31
Charlotte 51 2nd Half 9:07
Western Ky 65
Texas-El Paso 46 2nd Half 7:50
North Texas 49
Wichita State 68 2nd Half 5:59
Evansville 54
Loyola-Chicago 48 2nd Half 7:39
Northern Iowa 51
Bradley 47 2nd Half 6:36
Drake 68
Vanderbilt 25 2nd Half
(12) Kentucky 24
Middle Tennessee 79
Colorado 15 1st Half 11:28
USC 15
San Francisco 26 1st Half 8:38
Pacific 22
Idaho State 15 1st Half 8:38
Eastern Washington 18
Weber State 10 1st Half 9:20
Idaho 21
Purdue 8:25 PM
Cal-Irvine 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Long Beach St 9:00 PM
Hawaii 9:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
UC Davis 9:00 PM
Northern Ariz 9:00 PM
Portland State
Southern Utah 9:00 PM
Sacramento St
Utah 10:30 PM
BYU 10:30 PM
St Marys-CA


question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters