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.


Posts about E.J. Henderson

Market moves: How the Vikings have handled free agency to date

Posted by: Updated: March 29, 2012 - 2:39 PM

It’s been 16 days now since free agency opened across the NFL. Here’s your comprehensive report on how the Vikings have operated in the market over the past two-and-a-half weeks.

RE-SIGNED

 
Erin Henderson
Leslie Frazier loves Henderson’s energy, growth potential and position flexibility at linebacker. Henderson is pleased with his new one-year, $2 million deal and hopes a superb 2012 will lead to a much bigger pay day next March.
 
Letroy Guion
The Remi Ayodele experiment at nose tackle was a failure. Now the 24-year-old Guion will get a shot to flourish in a leading role there. In what will be an under-the-radar storyline but important nonetheless, Guion’s development under new defensive line coach Brendan Daly will be worth monitoring.
 
Devin Aromashodu
After a 26-catch, 468-yard season in 2011, Aromashodu will be back for another year. The Vikings have no plans on making him a featured offensive weapon but believe he can be a valuable contributor on the perimeter.
 
Sage Rosenfels
Starting quarterback Christian Ponder is 24 and entering his second season. Back-up Joe Webb is 25 and entering his third season. Rosenfels may be highly unlikely to see the field on game days – he hasn’t thrown a pass in a game since 2008 – but the Vikings feel his veteran presence and intelligence will provide a healthy environment for their two other young signal callers to learn in.
 
Fred Evans
Evans is entering his sevent season and will be asked to push Guion at nose tackle.
 
NEW ADDITIONS
 
John Carlson
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is tweaking his playbook for the new two Notre Dame tight end sets. The pairing of Carlson with Kyle Rudolph should add a new dimension to the offense. Musgrave and General Manager Rick Spielman expect Carlson to be fully recovered after missing all of 2011 due to  a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
 
Zack Bowman
The flashes of brilliance Bowman showed in 2009 when he had six interceptions with the Bears were enough to convince the Vikings to roll the dice. Working with head coach Leslie Frazier and new defensive coordinator Alan Williams, both of who have good track records developing defensive backs, may provide Bowman a boost at corner.
 
Geoff Schwartz
Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson vouched for Schwartz’s talents, having coached him in 2009 and 2010 in Carolina. Like Carlson, Schwartz missed all of 2011; he had hip surgery. But he has an ability to help at both guard and tackle and should enter training camp with an opportunity to compete for a starting spot inside.
 
Lex Hilliard
Hilliard received his Vikings’ internal vote of confidence from running backs coach James Saxon, with whom he worked in Miami in 2009 and 2010. He has value as a multi-dimensional fullback.
 
Jerome Felton
Drafted in the fifth round in 2008 by Detroit, Felton is entering his fifth season with his fourth different team and will compete for a job at fullback.
 
STILL OUT THERE
 
Husain Abdullah
Abdullah missed the final seven games of 2011 after suffering his second concussion of the season and fourth in two years. Durability is a concern. But the Vikings have offered Abdullah a contract and a chance to come back. The dependable safety is currently mulling the offer.
 
E.J. Henderson
Odds are good Henderson will be separated from his younger brother. He’s 32, entering his 10th NFL season and spent much of last year dealing with nagging knee pain. But E.J. has yet to sign elsewhere and the Vikings say they’ll leave the door open a crack for a possible return – but only if they can get him to accept a lessened role and a discount deal.
 
GONE
 
Visanthe Shiancoe
With Carlson on board, Shiancoe’s five-year run in Minnesota (208 catches, 2,424 yards, 24 TDs) is over.
 
Kenny Onatolu
A linebacker who was at his best on special teams, Onatolu has signed a new deal with the Panthers.
 
Lorenzo Booker
Ball security was an issue last season with Booker stumbling in his limited opportunities as a tailback and kick returner.
 
Greg Camarillo
The veteran receiver is still on the open market but doesn’t help the Vikings address any of their needs.
 
Tyrell Johnson
The Vikings’ second-round pick in 2008, Johnson never really broke through and ended last season on injured reserve after tearing a hamstring.
 
Benny Sapp
Sapp’s seven-game return to Minnesota late last season came only after the Vikings’ secondary went through major attrition. Prior to signing, Sapp had spent the previous nine weeks out of football. He might want to get used to that lifestyle again.
 
Jarrad Page
Another late-season addition in 2011, Page arrived in Week 13 and was simply a crutch to help the Vikings stumble to the finish line of a miserable season. Earlier this month, Page signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
 
Xavier Adibi
The young linebacker barely saw the field in 2011, his first and likely only season with the Vikings.
 
Matt Katula
Brought in after long snapper Cullen Loeffler broke a bone in his back, Katula was erratic. Kicker Ryan Longwell missed two field goal attempts and a PAT during Katula’s five-game stay.
 
Scott Kooistra
Kooistra, an offensive lineman, suffered a serious and potentially career-ending neck injury in the first preseason game last season.
 
It’s also worth mentioning that since March 10, the Vikings have released a quartet of veterans: cornerback Cedric Griffin, guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera and defensive tackle Remi Ayodele.
 
WISH LIST GOING FORWARD
  • A standout left tackle.
  • A dynamic receiver who can provide a vertical threat to the passing game.
  • Lots and lots of safety help. The only safeties currently under contract are Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford and Eric Frampton.
  • Additional help at cornerback – though at full strength, the nucleus of Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Asher Allen, Zack Bowman and Marcus Sherels should steady a shaken unit.
  • A reliable No. 3 running back who can backup Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
  • Added depth at linebacker.

Vikings sign Erin Henderson, Aromashodu

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 23, 2012 - 6:39 PM

Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson, who tweeted earlier this week his frustration that the Vikings haven't tried hard to re-sign him, got his wish.

The team is bringing him back on a one-year deal.

Our own Sid Hartman called minutes ago to report the transaction. The contract is worth $2 million.

Henderson started last season alongside his brother, middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, and Chad Greenway.

Update: The team also has reached a one-year deal with receiver Devin Aromashodu. Much like the agreement with Erin, this deal makes sense for the team and the player.

The Vikings can't turn over their entire non-Percy Harvin receiving corp in one year. So they're going to need bodies there. Aromashodu, 27, showed glimpses of being a downfield threat in the Vikings' offense. He caught only 26 passes, but averaged 18 yards per catch with a 34-yard touchdown and a long catch of 60 yards.

Meanwhile, former Ravens cornerback Chris Carr left Winter Park without a contract offer.

Linebacker market taking awhile to settle

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 19, 2012 - 1:32 PM

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.  

Free agent frenzy: Top players on the shelf at every position

Posted by: Updated: March 13, 2012 - 8:44 AM

Looking for a quick guide to NFL free agency, which opens this afternoon at 3 p.m.? We've got you covered. Already, our analysis at the Star Tribune has brought you the following.

Finally, just to prime the pump even more, we're happy to direct you to the list of the top free agents at each position delivered by NFL.com senior writer Steve Wyche. And then there's this "Hot 100" list provided by Evan Silva of ProFootballTalk.com.

Yep. It's time. Let the free agency frenzy begin.

Rick Spielman faces big decisions with potential roster moves

Posted by: Updated: March 10, 2012 - 9:38 AM

Rick Spielman? As Michael Corleone? Take a look and we’ll explain.

 

 
As the Vikings’ new general manager, this is the line Spielman must have at the ready. Especially now, this weekend, when hard decisions must be made.
 
Free agency will open across the NFL on Tuesday at 3 p.m. To prepare for that open market frenzy, teams have already begun making significant roster moves. The Giants, for example, released veteran running back Brandon Jacobs on Friday. In Indianapolis, the Colts’ roster overhaul included the release of Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Melvin Bullitt and Gary Brackett.
 
Nothing personal. Strictly business.
 
So what should we be monitoring for Spielman and the Vikings as they make a series of important business decisions? Logic says that as Spielman moves forward with his promise to make the roster much younger, veterans with big contracts should be on alert for a call to discuss their futures. Here’s a snapshot look at the top four candidates for such calls.
 
Steve Hutchinson
Why a call may be necessary: Hutchinson is due to make close to $7 million in 2012 in the final year of his contract, a price the Vikings absolutely do not want to pay for a 34-year-old lineman with 11 NFL seasons of mileage on his odometer. So now comes the tricky part of negotiations. Just how much would Hutchinson have to restructure his contract for the Vikings to keep him around? And will he be amenable to taking a major pay cut? If not, the Vikings would have no choice but to release Hutchinson, who would then have to decide whether to find a new team or simply retire.
 
What could happen: There’s been widespread belief that the 2012 season will be Hutchinson’s last. And at 34 with six seasons under his belt in Minnesota, it’s hard to imagine he’d be all that ecstatic about starting anew someplace else for what could be nothing more than an eight-month tour of duty on the march to retirement. So now Spielman and the Vikings have to decide how low the price would have to fall for them to want Hutchinson back as a veteran leader on the interior of the o-line.
 
Cedric Griffin
Why a call may be necessary: Griffin had an awful season in 2011. He struggled mightily in coverage and his confidence seemed to dip substantially throughout the second half of the season, leading up to his outright benching in Week 14 in Detroit. By season’s end, it seemed clear that Griffin’s days in the Twin Cities were numbered, the veteran cornerback looking for a change of scenery and an escape from a situation that seemed to grow quite toxic through last year’s struggles.
 
What could happen: Due to make more than $4 million in 2012 with a contract that runs through 2014 Griffin should be set free. The environment in Minnesota soured too much at the end of 2011 for a second chance in ’12 to have much realistic value. Yes, the Vikings are low on depth in their defensive backfield at present and are still awaiting a verdict in the felony domestic assault trial of cornerback Chris Cook. But even keeping Griffin around as an insurance policy doesn’t seem to make much sense.
 
Anthony Herrera
Why a call may be necessary: Like Hutchinson, Herrera doesn’t fit the profile for the youth movement Spielman wants to enact. He’s played eight seasons and has provided the Vikings’ offensive front with an admirable measure of toughness and tenacity, a big reason he’s a favorite of head coach Leslie Frazier. But Herrera is due to make $2.65 million in 2012, another expense that would be worth chopping if at all possible.
 
What could happen: If the Vikings are dead set on taking Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil with the No. 3 pick in next month’s draft, that means Charlie Johnson is likely to slide inside from left tackle to one of the guard positions. The Vikings also have starting guard candidates in Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco (a Spielman favorite). Chris DeGeare is also around to provide depth. Translation: from a financial standpoint, it certainly wouldn’t be prudent to keep both Hutchinson and Herrera around with the team in rebuilding mode. It also wouldn’t be a shock if both guards were thanked for their services and shown the door.
 
Antoine Winfield
Why a call may be necessary: Winfield is another long-in-the-tooth veteran with a hefty paycheck. A call to the talented cornerback with a request to restructure his deal wouldn’t be outlandish. But it’s certainly far from necessary.
 
What could happen: Likely nothing. Winfield has been around Winter Park often during the offseason as he continues rehabilitation from the season-ending collarbone injury he suffered in Week 9 in Green Bay. Frazier sees him as a smart and energetic veteran leader for a secondary that could badly use some smarts and energy. Winfield will likely be used often in a nickel role going forward with Frazier having no designs on converting him into a safety. And his value to the secondary was proven in the 11 games he missed last season
 
It’s also worth noting that the Vikings have 18 other players whose contracts will expire when the new league year begins Tuesday. Of that group, only five were significant contributors this past season – tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, linebackers E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson, safety Husain Abdullah and receiver Devin Aromashodu.
 
Odds are that Shiancoe and E.J. Henderson will both be allowed to test the open market and will likely move on. The Vikings would love to re-sign Erin Henderson and may try hard to get something done before Tuesday. They also have a difficult decision with Abdullah, who is a low-maintenance and intelligent defensive back but has had four concussions over the past two seasons. That gives the fifth-year safety a bright red stamp as a medical risk and the Vikings will have to negotiate accordingly.
 
Aromashodu? He too will be allowed to test the open market after a 2011 season in which he caught 26 passes for 468 balls. If the Vikings decide to ultimately bring him back for 2012, it will have to be at a reasonable price. But Aromashodu will not be a top priority for Spielman in the coming days.
 
It’s not personal. Strictly business.

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