Chad Greenway's Last Hurrah
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Jared Allen ended his illustrious career by riding off into the sunset. Hussain Abdullah, a former Minnesota Vikings safety, announced his retirement via Instagram, citing his “personal health” for the sudden departure. Players hang their cleats up for different reasons, whether it’s injuries, a lack of motivation, or a feeling of peace after enjoying the game of football for so many years.

Given that the average career lasts just 3.3 years, it’s amazing that so many players, like Adrian Peterson and Terence Newman, continue to play into their 30s. Retirement after so many seasons is expected, and often, necessary; when a player doesn’t have “it,” it’s time to move on. That’s the name of the game — or business — that is the NFL.

But for teams like the Vikings, who have one of the league’s 10-youngest rosters, age, for the most part, is just a number. The majority of Minnesota’s key contributors are rookies, second-year players, and budding veterans who are expected to remain with the Vikings for years. It’s players like Chad Greenway who could face a harsh reality when the 2016 season begins.

Though reports from the Vikings indicate Greenway’s imminent return, it’s unclear what role he’ll play and how often he’ll play next season. Long the stalwart of Minnesota’s defenses, Greenway has taken a backseat to Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks in Zimmer’s scheme, which favors Nickel packages and the athletes who can cover running backs and/or receivers in space.

Greenway just isn’t that player anymore, but the team clearly wants him back. His veteran leadership, experience, and pedigree warrant that much, but it’s unlikely he sees much of the field when he does return. So, today’s poll doesn’t ask whether he will be with the Vikings in 2016, because he most likely will, but rather, how he’ll contribute when the season begins.

Last season, his 9th in the league, Greenway played in 58.71 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Since 2013, he’s seen his snap count totals dip dramatically, dropping from 1,092 in 2013 to 760 in 2014 and most recently, 632 in 2015. Obviously, injuries played a part in the decline, but Greenway’s also the victim of the inescapable truth — time stands still for no one. At 33 years old, he’s lost a step, and it showed most dramatically when the 49ers beat the Vikings to a pulp in Week 1 last season.

With Zimmer’s move to a Nickel-heavy look, Kendricks and Barr are the stars on defense. They’re athletic enough to cover in space and rally to the edge, but also capable run defenders thanks to Linval Joseph‘s presence up front. Their rise to the top of the depth chart is making a three-down, weak side linebacker much less of a need for the Vikings, who prefer versatile, fluid personnel packages on defense. Anything that confuses opposing quarterbacks and adds another layer to the scheme — rolling out an extra defensive back, bringing in an extra defensive end — is welcome in Zimmer’s defensive playbook.

Still, the signing of Emmanuel Lamur in free agency counts for something, and could spell the end of Greenway’s playing time next season. Lamur is a former college safety with the versatility to play any of the linebacker spots, and possibly, in spurts as an in-the-box safety. He’s tall (6’4″) and has the weight to hang in the trenches, but Lamur’s injury history is a concern that may limit his long-term prospects as Greenway’s replacement. The upcoming draft also gives the Vikings options, as outside linebackers like Darron Lee and Deion Jones could be available with the 23rd-overall selection.

Where does Greenway go from here? He showed flashes in 2015, returning an interception for a touchdown against the Chargers in Week 3, but also saw his playing time decrease from week to week. According to Brian Murphy, Zimmer think his veteran linebacker will play a similar role to the one he had last season, but plans change in an instant.

The fans, the organization, and his fellow Vikings love Greenway. He gives back to the community, he’s a dream teammate, and he’s one of the “good guys.” But every hero, role model, and superstar knows the curtains have to close at some point. 2016 may be Greenway’s last, and if it is, it was one enjoyable ride.