While you were sleeping, Jasper Brinkley, who started at middle linebacker for the Vikings in 2014, agreed to terms with the Cowboys, according to a league source. The Vikings were in contact with his people before the start of free agency, but they clearly did not make Brinkley a priority.
Brinkley, who made $830,000 on a one-year contract last season, did a solid job against the run, finishing with 74 tackles and a forced fumble. But because of his limitations in pass coverage, Brinkley was not a part of the team’s sub packages, meaning he usually wasn’t on the field on passing downs. He ended up playing just 42.5 percent of the defensive snaps.
With Brinkley off to Dallas, the Vikings now must find a new starting middle linebacker, though chances are they were already looking for one, which is why Brinkley was allowed to walk.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said at the combine that the free-agent class of middle linebackers did not wow him. He also said this year’s group of draft-eligible middle linebackers wasn’t great either.
Rey Maualuga, Zimmer’s middle linebacker in Cincinnati, was among the top free agents available, but he stayed with the Bengals. David Harris, another top middle linebacker, re-signed with the Jets. But a few intriguing players are still out there three days into free agency.
Rolando McClain, the man in the middle for the Cowboys, remains unsigned, but he’s an enigma considering his past legal issues and the fact that he retired a couple of years ago.
Former Patriots and Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes is a two-down thumper like Brinkley — and probably better at it — but he, too, has had trouble keeping up in coverage.
Mason Foster, Nate Irving and D.J. Williams are among the other middle linebackers still out there.
The Vikings could opt to address the position in the draft. They have been eyeing up prospects like Denzel Perryman, Eric Kendricks, Benardrick McKinney, Stephone Anthony and Paul Dawson.
Or maybe they give a longer look to Audie Cole this year after he opened eyes by making plays all over the field in the season finale. He made 14 tackles and swatted down a pass in that game.
It is only March 13, so there is no reason to panic about what the Vikings will do at the position. But with Brinkley signing on with the Cowboys, there will be another new middle linebacker this year.
What’s left to be done for the Vikings? Check out their to-do list in our free agency tracker.