Vikings give Erin Henderson 'prove-it' year

The NFL's relatively depressed market for linebackers allowed the Minnesota Vikings to bring back starter Erin Henderson at a low-risk rate. After an encouraging season as a first-time starter in 2011, Henderson agreed to terms on a one-year contract worth $2 million, according to Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Our friends at Pro Football Focus (PFF) have been singing Henderson's praises all offseason, concluding he had one of the best performances of any 4-3 outside linebacker in 2011. Among PFF's finds from a season-long analysis: Henderson led all players at the position by making a tackle on 16.1 percent of the plays he was on the field for. He also had the highest percentage of "stops," which are tackles that led to an offensive failure in the running game.

PFF: "Just looking at tackle figures you might not be drawn instantly to his name, but Erin Henderson made more positive defensive plays relative to how much he was on the field than any other linebacker, and showed a real knack for shedding blocks and affecting the play. Against the run he wasn’t just having a good season, but there may not have been a better player in the NFL at his position last year."

Henderson expressed frustration via Twitter recently about the seeming lack of urgency to re-sign him, but the reality is the market value for linebackers has either dropped or at best stayed flat as the NFL continues its shift toward the passing game and pass defense.

In any event, the Vikings can now say they have two of their three starting linebackers under contract in Henderson and Chad Greenway. It's not clear who will start at middle linebacker, where long-term starter E.J. Henderson remains on the market. One possibility is Jasper Brinkley, but he missed all of 2011 because of a hip injury.