The name Jasper Brinkley causes some Vikings fans to shudder as they recall his final season with the Vikings two years ago. He started 15 games that season, after missing a season to injury, and the results were not overly inspiring. After his four years with the Vikings, Brinkley signed as a free agent with Arizona last offseason.
Arizona then drafted rookie linebacker Kevin Minter. Brinkley started three games before the rookie took over and Brinkley was released in February.
At 28 years old, Brinkley doesn’t seem like the type of guy that is suddenly going to get any faster or develop impressive coverage skills (both weaknesses of his), but I will admit that I have never been as down on his performances as many fans and analysts have been. He is a downhill player that can deliver the big hit, but it is mistake to think he can cover a tight end like Vernon Davis on a deep seam route. He has his limitations, but he also has his value.
In landing back in Minnesota, Brinkley has land in perhaps the best possible position available to him in the NFL, as the Vikings currently have a wide open vacancy at middle linebacker. Audie Cole and Michael Mauti are expected to compete with Brinkley in training camp for the starting honors, but another free agent signing or significant draft selection could certainly see them all fighting to remain employed as backups.
Brinkley should be entering the 2014 season fully healthy (I don’t believe he was in 2012), seems to be liked well enough by his former teammates, and he’s already back to his ways of making headlines for all the right reasons off the field. Even newly signed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said the presence of Brinkley during his visit to Minnesota helped recruit him to join the Vikings, as they were roommates in college.
His contract is very low risk and, since he was released by Arizona, will not count against the Vikings in the compensatory pick formula. Brinkley’s contract included only $25,000 in guarantees, according to Spotrac, and carries a total cap hit of only $830,000.
In the end Brinkley’s return is a low-risk and probably low-reward one for Rick Spielman. He is never going to become a consistent game-changer and dominant force, but I do believe he can help a run defense that struggled greatly in 2013, if he is called up to do so. If he doesn’t have a future with Mike Zimmer and the Vikings, however, they can simply part ways with him and move on… again.
Adam’s Grade: B