When Rick Spielman decided to win a bidding war with Chicago for the services of right tackle Phil Loadholt, he was willing to make veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield a casualty by sending him packing. At the time, I opined that the Vikings not only lost their best cornerback as a result, but that they also lost their best linebacker and defensive leader.
Then, through free agency and the NFL Draft, the Vikings refused to make considerable investment into the linebacker position despite numerous opportunities. Some third day Draft picks, and injury-prone free agent Desmond Bishop, amounted to no immediate upgrade to the starting linebacker positions. Instead, the team was willing to move forward with Erin Henderson manning the middle.
Now, I am on record as being supportive of Henderson. I think he has played better than many fans give him credit for. Until last week, he led the team in tackles. Only ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison have more sacks than his three. He leads the Vikings with nine tackles for a loss, is tied for a team lead with two interceptions, and leads all the linebackers with three defended passes. Those stats, however, have not been enough for fans and analysts to grant Henderson immunity from criticism as the Vikings currently place 29th in pass defense and 24th against the run.
Henderson was expected to step up, take command of the defense, and instead the entire unit has been on a season-long campaign of collapse. With Winfield gone, and Kevin Williams and Jared Allen clearly on their way out, it seemed natural to look for a leader on defense to ease the transition. Instead, Henderson has been at the center of a defense that has shown no ability to stop opponents, and instead of being a vocal leader that speaks of consistency and accountability he has found himself in the center of controversy.
That is exactly what you don’t look for in a team leader.
Last week, news broke that Henderson had been picked up for DWI and possession of a controlled substance. The details are murky right now, and he claims this isn’t the “personal reason” he had for missing last week’s game, but Henderson has a long ways to go before anybody will consider him a legitimate leader on defense.
Henderson counts as the third Vikings player in three weeks to hit the police blotter, which prompted General Manager Rick Spielman to release a public statement, and the Vikings brass cannot be happy about any of this. Surely this issue will come up when end-of-season evaluations of Henderson’s value are being performed and I can’t imagine the front office will be content relying so heavily on him in 2014 and beyond.
Perhaps the best case scenario, for Henderson, is to end up back at the weakside spot.
That would certainly seem like a preferred alternative to being out of a job.