[Note: This segment is a part of a position-by-position look at what the Minnesota Vikings might be inclined to do during the 2015 free agency period. This is the 11th article, focusing on the inside linebackers. In case you missed it, feel free to check out the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, fullbacks, wide outs, specialists, safeties, cornerbacks, defensive ends, and defensive tackle/nose tackle.]
Last March Jasper Brinkley signed a one year $830,000 contract to rejoin with the Minnesota Vikings. Brinkley was originally drafted by the Vikings in the 5th round of the 2009 NFL Draft and played his first three years in Minnesota before spending the 2013 season with the Arizona Cardinals. The soon to be 30 year old (July 12th) middle linebacker is hoping to resign with the Vikings again this off season.
In 2014, Brinkley gave the Vikings that stopgap run stuffer in middle playing all 16 games and collecting 75 total tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
Brinkley is on the back side of his career and limited as a two-down rotational defender. His demand in the free agency market might be minimal. If Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman feel that Brinkley can still help this team, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brinkley resigns another affordable one year deal with the Vikings.
Gerald Hodges gained some valuable experience in 2014 filling in while Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway were injured. Hodges is a versatile, athletic, physical defender who just might be the Vikings best option at the nickel “mike” linebacker position heading into the 2015 season.
A combination of Brinkley and Hodges in the middle might make sense if Zimmer has his eye on developing Hodges as a future full time middle linebacker.
Hodges finished the year ranked as the 9th best 4-3 outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus (one spot behind Anthony Barr). PFF gave Brinkley a top 16 grade as an inside linebacker.
Hodges is known as a talented pass defender, but his solid play against the run was a pleasant and much needed surprise. Both qualities just happen to be important traits in a 4-3 middle linebacker.
With that said, I certainly realize many Viking fans are ready to see an upgrade at the middle linebacker position… and the free agent market might be one way to find a quick improvement. Here are the FA middle linebackers options.
Rolando McClain, ILB Cowboys. Age 26
Drafted eighth overall by the Oakland Raider in 2010, McClain played his first 3 years in Oakland before off-field issues lead to his release in 2013. He was signed to a one year contract in Baltimore but struggled and retired in May 2013. The Dallas Cowboys gave him a chance last season and it paid off. McCain was very good against both the run and the pass, serving as the leader of the defense. A late season head injury and a four game fine for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy might scare some teams away.
Brandon Spikes, ILB Bills. Age 27
Spikes is a stout, two-down run defender that played well on a one year prove it deal. He was originally a second round pick by the New England Patriots in 2010 and will likely find a nice contract.
Craig Robertson (RFA), ILB Browns. Age 29
Robertson is an adequate three down starting inside linebacker with 277 total tackles and 5 career interception in three seasons. Robertson was an undrafted free agent by the Browns in 2011 and has developed into a solid player.
Rey Maualuga, ILB Bengals. Age 28
Maualuga is a bit of an inconsistent linebacker, but he knows Zimmer’s system and he played at a very high level to end the 2014 season. Maualuga was drafted by the Bengals in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft and has 482 career tackles and 5 interceptions.
Jasper Brinkley, ILB, Vikings. Age 30
David Harris, ILB Jets. Age 31
Mason Foster, ILB Buccaneers. Age 26
Nate Irving, ILB Broncos. Age 27
Michael Wilhoite (RFA) 49ers. Age 28
A.J Hawk, ILB Packers. Age 31
Jerrell Freeman (RFA) Colts. Age 29
Arthur Moats, ILB Steelers. Age 27
Brad Jones, ILB Packer. Age 29
Jason Trusnik, ILB Dolphins. Age 31
Nick Bellore, ILB/ST, Jets. Age 26
Ramon Humber, ILB/ST, Saints. Age 28
Chris White, ILB/ST, Patriots. Age 26
Jeff Tarpinian, ILB, Texans. Age 27
Andrew Gachkar, ILB, Chargers. Age 26
Josh Mauga, ILB, Chiefs. Age 28
Akeem Dent, ILB, Texans. Age 27
D.J. Williams, ILB, Bears. Age 33
J.T. Thomas, ILB, Jaguars. Age 27
Colin McCarthy, ILB, Titans. Age 27
Dane Fletcher, ILB, Buccaneers. Age 28
Jamari Lattimore, ILB, Packers. Age 26
Kelvin Sheppard, ILB, Dolphins. Age 27
Jonathan Casillas, ILB, Patriots. Age 28
Casey Matthews, ILB, Eagles. Age 26
Larry Foote, ILB, Cardinals. Age 35
Steven Johnson (RFA), ILB, Broncos. Age 27
Moise Fokou, ILB/ST, Saints. Age 30
Zac Diles, ILB, Browns. Age 30
Stevenson Sylvester, ILB, Bills. Age 27
Jerry Franklin (RFA), ILB, Saints. Age 27
The Vikings may kick the tires on Maualuga, Spikes and a few others like Mason Foster and Nate Irving, but ultimately I think the price tag will be too high and the best option will prove to be another one year deal with Brinkley while continuing to develop from within and through the draft.