Free agency doesn't provide many LB solutions

Jasper Brinkley (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA Today)

The Vikings have two-thirds of their starting linebacker crew primed for free agency, but the open market doesn't possess many obvious replacement solutions.

There are times when team needs and free agent prospects blend together perfectly – where the melding of talent and teams meet and a lot of money gets spent.

The story at linebacker as free agency nears is that the Vikings have Chad Greenway and a lot of questions. And the news isn't good if the Vikings are looking to make a big splash while having two of their three linebacker starters from last year (Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson) as free agents.

The 2013 crop of available linebackers is about as weak as any in recent years. Compounding the problem is that the Vikings are far from alone in terms of need – a case can be made that Buffalo, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, St. Louis and both New York teams are in the same boat.

The biggest problem is that it can be argued there is only one linebacker in the 2013 free agent class that is a young starter with his best years in front of him – Baltimore's Dannell Ellerbe – and the Ravens are working on trying to lock him down before he hits the open market at 3 p.m. CT Tuesday.

Other than that, the crop of linebackers is suspect at best – loaded with more players looking for a final contract, not a first one. Jacksonville's Daryl Smith is 31 years old and is coming off an injury that limited him to just two games last year. Rey Maualuga is a candidate to look at for middle linebacker, but he's been inconsistent and the Bengals, loaded with cap space, didn't make a big effort to lock him down after the season. Green Bay's Brad Jones could be an option, but as a versatile backup type/special teamer.

Brian Urlacher is heading to the Hall of Fame, but his best days are behind him and he doesn't look to be a good fit anywhere except Chicago. Some players are destined to play their entire careers with one team, a number that shrinks all the time, and Urlacher seems like one of those players.

There are some veterans that have become available, including James Harrison, Nick Barnett, Bart Scott, Michael Boley and Takeo Spikes, but none of them would be viewed as more than a one-year solution.

The Vikings may have to make the decision to re-sign both Brinkley and Henderson and look to the draft to find competition. Linebackers aren't as coveted as they used to be because small defensive ends are now viewed as linebackers, as are big safeties. Their position has been homogenized and, as a result, teams look more to the draft than free agency to find an athletic diamond in the rough. Given the relative weakness of the Class of '13 – Ellerbe or bust – it would seem that the Vikings will only be involved in mid- to low-level searches for Greenway's backup band. It will be a critical component of their strategy – free agency and the draft – moving forward, but the prospect doesn't look good at first blush that free agency will play a significant role at linebacker.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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