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 mlb.com 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Toronto 104 FINAL
Indiana 91
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Detroit 95
Milwaukee 109 FINAL
Miami 102
Memphis 109 FINAL
Dallas 90
Chicago 113 FINAL
Golden State 111
Washington 98 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
NY Rangers 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 4
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 4
Winnipeg 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Washington 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Carolina 4
Dallas 2 FINAL
Montreal 3
Detroit 5 FINAL
Florida 4
Colorado 3 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 4
Buffalo 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
Minnesota 2 FINAL
Edmonton 1
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Vancouver 0
Ball State 47 FINAL
Akron 59
Northern Ill 46 FINAL
Bowling Green 56
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Buffalo 77
Ohio 40 FINAL
Eastern Mich 76
Xavier 66 FINAL
Georgetown 53
Vanderbilt 62 FINAL
Georgia 70
West Virginia 65 FINAL
Kansas State 59
Central Mich 53 FINAL
Kent State 63
Saint Josephs 48 FINAL
La Salle 53
Nebraska 44 FINAL
Michigan 58
Miami-Ohio 65 FINAL
Toledo 70
Tulsa 62 FINAL
Tulane 55
George Washington 48 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 72
Pittsburgh 67 FINAL
Virginia Tech 70
Indiana State 78 FINAL
Evansville 89
Tabor College 53 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Florida 52 FINAL
Alabama 50
Tennessee 64 FINAL
Arkansas 69
Texas A&M 71 FINAL
Auburn 61
Baylor 53 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
DePaul 0 Postponed
Providence 0
Michigan State 0 Postponed
Rutgers 0
Wyoming 44 FINAL
Utah State 56
Fresno State 47 FINAL
San Diego St 58
UNLV 67 FINAL
Nevada 62
SD Christian 54 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 79
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Boise State 82
Temple 71 FINAL
UCF 54
Campbell 42 FINAL
Presbyterian 51
Coastal Carolina 65 FINAL
High Point 73
Gardner-Webb 49 FINAL
Radford 59
UNC-Asheville 58 FINAL
Liberty 62
Winthrop 63 FINAL
Longwood 62
Columbia International 33 FINAL
Charleston Southern 74
Tulane 63 FINAL
Houston 46
(3) Baylor 89 FINAL
TCU 67
Navy 49 FINAL
American Univ 59
Valparaiso 42 FINAL
Illinois-Chicago 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who will win the Super Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT