Saturday, November 18, 2017

EJ Henderson

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In an earlier VT feature, we talked to EJ Henderson about his time as a Viking and where his life has taken him post-football. As a follow-up to that piece, I would like to highlight an upcoming event hosted by Henderson and his Youth Pro Fitness organization. The event is FREE for kids, but there is limited registration available.

The goal of YoPro Fitness is to focus on the overall health and fitness of kids ages 7-13. It partners with local community education and youth programs and is a mobile organization that travels to a location and uses its gym or field space to run the program.

“Any organization that wants to run a health and fitness program for their kids, we’ll provide,” Henderson said. “We’re mobile—we’ll come to you.”

On June 25, YoPro Fitness is hosting a two-hour event that will give fitness assessments to 125 youth throughout the Twin Cities. According to the website, results will be captured by using state-of-the-art technology to objectively quantify and house the physical testing metrics for individual participants.

“A baseline understanding of your fitness levels is crucial if improvement is to occur,” Henderson emphasized.

Rick Spielman had a chance to sign one of the many proven middle linebackers that hit the open market back in March.

He passed.

Instead, the team has decided to move forward with Jasper Brinkley, a fifth round selection in 2009, to take over the position that E.J. Henderson has held for so long.  Brinkley filled in for Henderson quite well during his rookie season, but last year he missed every game due to a hip injury that is apparently still lingering.

“I know what we saw when he came in as a rookie and when he came in and filled in for E.J. and the potential we saw there,” Spielman recently told 1500 ESPN.  “He’s a big banger, physical inside middle linebacker that probably doesn’t get enough credit for his athletic skill set as well.”

Spielman can’t help but admit that Brinkley’s health concerns could be a problem, however.

“But again, the durability is a question right now,” continued Spielman, “just because he hasn’t played in a year and hasn’t played much at all hardly through this offseason.”

The Vikings are keeping Brinkley in Minnesota between now and training camp and Spielman says the goal is to make sure he is 100% ready to go by the time training camp rolls around.  Rookie Audie Cole, practice squad player Tyrone MCKenzie and free agent pickup Marvin Mitchell make up the depth chart behind Brinkley and have been seeing increased reps during his absence.

“There’s no question Jasper’s slated in there, but there is some competition going on,” Spielman said of the starting position. “Jasper has to show that he can be on the field, and if not, like I said, we’ll monitor where our young guys are, where some of our backups are and can they do it, and if not, we’ll definitely have to explore the market outside.”

“It’s a big year for him as well, I know, because he’s going into the last year of his contract,” noted Spielman.  “So, he wants — he needs to get on the field.”

I find the timing of Spielman expressing his concerns kind of puzzling.  When free agency opened up he watched guys like Curtis Lofton, Stephen Tulloch, David Hawthorne, and Dan Connor sign with other teams despite their proven talent and fairly ideal age.

If Brinkley doesn’t pan out because of injuries, and the depth behind him proves to be inadequate, then the decision to make middle linebacker a non-priority could be one that comes back and bites Spielman in the ass.

If you visit our Tweet GRIDiron, you will quickly realize that free agent linebacker Erin Henderson is quickly growing unhappy with the Vikings attempts to retain him.

Henderson began the day by stating, “I wish I [could] speak freely on twitter…”

Then, probably against the wishes of his agent, Henderson proceeded to speak freely on Twitter.

Henderson went undrafted four seasons ago, but last year got a chance to start alongside his brother E.J. as the team’s weakside linebacker.  He also pulled some duties in the middle, when E.J. needed to be spelled due to injury.

“What’s crazy is I’m not even asking for big money,” Tweeted Henderson. “All I want is respectable money for what I’m asked to do…”

Henderson clearly plans on continuing to be a starter in the NFL, but it sounds like the toll it takes on his body is worth more to him than the $1.2 million he made in 2011.

“I got a taste of what it means to be a starting [linebacker]. [T]rust me if the money aint right it doesn’t make sense at all…” Henderson continued.

“In a nutshell… market value and franchise value aren’t always going to match,” Henderson said. “If someone can play [three] positions [for you], their value has to go up. … I watched every single [one] of my games from last [year] [ten times] over. I know what I’m worth.”

The Vikings have reportedly been in contact with Henderson’s agent at multiple points throughout the offseason, and they have expressed their desire to keep him on the roster, but there is currently no standing offer out there.

“Not to mention they [haven’t] even [given] me an offer….” Henderson lamented on Twitter.

Henderson’s choice to vent his frustrations in a public setting may not be a wise one, and will be even less wise for Rick Spielman to respond in a public setting.

The truth is probably less sinister than some of the conspiracy theories floating around out there at the moment.  The free agency period has been very slow for the linebacker position, and much of the top talent is still available.  By all appearances, Henderson has yet to receive substantial interest from any other teams, and it is hard to blame the Vikings front office for holding tight and waiting to see where the market sets Henderson’s value.

The risk with this approach, of course, is that Henderson will grow so frustrated that he decides to ignore the Vikings moving forward and turns his attention from moving on from Minnesota.  Henderson’s risk, on the other hand, is that team’s will be turned off by his public rants and decide to pursue other talent… of which plenty is available.

Henderson needs to realize he isn’t the team’s only option to fill his shoes.  The Vikings, however, need to realize that solid talent only 25 years old is exactly what this roster needs now, and in the future.

The needs and wants seem mutual, and now we just need to see how the process plays out.

Rick Spielman confirmed on Thursday that the Vikings are not going to use their franchise tag on any of their pending free agents this offseason.

Considering the talent, or lack thereof, of the players set to possibly become unrestricted free agents the decision should come as no surprise to anyone.

I feel like I have been pretty supportive of outside linebacker Erin Henderson over the years, but Pro Football Focus’s high rating of Henderson’s 2011 performance has led to some outlandish speculation that the Vikings should use the tag on him.

In the end, however, Henderson was an average player on a horrible team.  He is in no way worth the money he would get from a franchise tag, but a contract extension should be in the works as long as Henderson hasn’t overvalued himself like PFF has.

Spielman also made clear that decisions on the Henderson brothers would be handled individually, and their relation would have no bearing on the front office’s evaluation of their value.

“That’s tough business decisions,” Spielman said. “But that’s the hardest part, is trying to take the human element out of it and just trying to do the best business decision you can make.”

It also sounds like the Vikings will finalize decisions on their roster and pending free agents by the end of next week, which means one very important thing:  I need to finish up my “Offseason Preview” segments real quick like.

Free agency starts on March 13th and the Vikings are expected to be active prior to that date releasing, re-signing, and restructuring their existing contracts to solidify positions and clear cap space.  That process is getting underway this week in Indy, as nearly everybody is there, including agents for the players in question.

“We’re talking to everyone’s agent, those guys, and (finding out) if they’re interested in that or not interested in that,” Spielman said. “We might not be interested in restructuring. We may be just be ready to move on, too.”

Steve Hutchinson, Cedric Griffin, and Anthony Herrera continue to be hot topics as these decisions loom.

[NOTE FROM ADAM:  This is another installation of my position-by-position breakdown of the Vikings offseason.  You can click the links to view previous installments:  The Passers, The Runners, The Wide Outs, The Tight Ends, The Offensive Line, The Defensive Tackles, and The Defensive Ends.]

Last offseason, the Vikings faced a crossroads with former first round pick Chad Greenway, and they decided to invest heavily in the outside linebacker by placing the franchise tag on him and then giving him a huge contract extension.

This year, the Vikings face similar decisions with the other two linebackers slots, and the position could be headed for major transition this offseason.

Let’s take a closer look.

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