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Big Decision: Vikings' middle linebacker

7/12/2012

Previewing some of the big decisions facing NFC North teams early in the 2012 offseason:

A flurry of moves last week left the Minnesota Vikings with two linebacker coaches but no short- or long-term answers at the all-important middle linebacker position. Fred Pagac has returned to coach linebackers, where he will join forces with Mike Singletary, but veteran middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is a pending free agent and his heir apparent hasn't played since 2010.

As of late December, the Vikings hadn't approached Henderson about a new contract. He will turn 32 in August and spent part of this season battling knee problems that stem from a brutal leg injury that probably should have ended his career in 2009.

Now would be a logical time for the Vikings to elevate Jasper Brinkley, a fifth-round draft pick in 2009 who started four regular-season games and another two in the playoffs as a rookie after Henderson fractured his leg. But Brinkley missed all of 2011 after surgery to repair a torn hip labrum and would at least need to clear some rust this offseason before jumping back into the fray.

What other options do the Vikings have? Henderson's younger brother, Erin, started 11 games at outside linebacker but has some experience in the middle. I doubt the Vikings would move the position of Pro Bowl linebacker Chad Greenway, but stranger things have happened. Free agency and the draft typically offer avenues for finding an immediate starter at middle linebacker as well.

Before anything else, the Vikings must determine whether E.J. Henderson should be brought back. Then the Vikings' medical staff will need to evaluate Brinkley; it's worth noting that most players return from hip labrum surgery without any long-term affects.

I don't think any final decisions have been made, but general manager Rick Spielman has said he wants the roster to get younger. Re-signing a 32-year-old middle linebacker probably wouldn't fit into that philosophy.