Friday, July 3, 2015

Erin Henderson

The Minnesota Vikings were supposed to draft Manti Te’o to start at middle linebacker.  I thought it would happen, many of you thought it would happen, and Patrick Reusse of 1500 ESPN called it a “100% certainty.”  Of course, as we all know, the Vikings passed on Te’o on three occasions before he was swiped up by the Chargers in the second round.

In fact, the Vikings ignored the position up until the seventh round when they selected Penn State’s Michael Mauti.  Now, Mauti has first round talents and leadership skills, but he also comes with an injury history that nearly caused him to go undrafted.

So, despite my opinion that the idea has never made much sense, Brian Urlacher’s name just keeps coming up in connection with the Vikings.  Yesterday, in what would seem to cynics (anybody know one?) like an obvious attempt to drum up interest in himself, a dubious “report” appeared that said the linebacker was leaning towards joining the Vikings.

The nonstop chatter about the position, and nonstop chatter about Erin Henderson’s lack of abilities, has not been sitting well with him and he took to the media on Wednesday to make his feelings known.

“I haven’t been more pissed in — I couldn’t tell you,” Henderson told 1500 ESPN after saying head  coach Leslie Frazier has told him he needs to play more angry.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been this pissed in my entire life, to just hear people talk about stuff that they have no idea what they’re talking about.”

“I guess it’s getting to a point now where it’s like, ‘Dang, I just want a little bit of respect,'” he continued.  “I’m not asking you to call me the greatest linebacker to ever play the game yet. Maybe one day we might get to that point, but show me a little bit of respect for what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished in this league.”

The main knock against Henderson have centered around the occasional, but glaring, soft tackling efforts and missed assignments in the passing game.  He has seemed to play at his best on the weakside, but when faulty decision making and injuries plagued Jasper Brinkley in 2012, Henderson was actually not too bad as the middle linebacker.  He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad.

Henderson shouldn’t have to worry about Urlacher any time soon, however, as Frazier appeared on NFL AM and said the team wasn’t considering adding the veteran at this time, but he also didn’t hand anything to Henderson on a silver platter.  He said there would be a battle, a competition, for the starting middle linebacker spot.

“I’ve kind of had to deal with it my entire career,” Henderson said. “A lot of people have said I shouldn’t have been starting as the will ‘backer. Coach was saying the same thing going into the season last year — ‘Well … Erin’s going to start out camp as the will backer.’ It’s never really been just outright, ‘OK, this is Erin’s position. This is Erin’s spot.'”

I don’t know if the Vikings have been using what doubters are saying about Henderson as motivation or what, but it is kind of unsettling to hear him spout off about what fans and the media are saying about him.  It kind of takes me aback a little bit as we don’t often hear players address comments of this nature in such a direct manner.

“And to the fans who don’t believe that I can do it, you haven’t seen me do it,” he said. “How can you say that I can’t do something if you haven’t seen me do it? They say different things about my abilities or whether I should be a starting linebacker or everything else, but my numbers and the fact that I’m still here speak for themselves.”

The beauty of the Urlacher thing, even though I never thought for one second that Rick Spielman would sign him, is that he kind of provides “competition” at the position as long as he remains a free agent.  The Vikings have Henderson, Mauti, Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie and Marvin Mitchell lined up to duke it out during OTA’s and training camp, but the threat of Urlacher’s name-value continuing to pop up can only push these guys that much further.

Last year, when a tremendous amount of linebacker talent was available in free agency, the Vikings gambled on Brinkley and lost.  This year they are doing the same thing by passing on great talents in the Draft, and betting on their in-house talent to get the job done.  The gamble could end up making the front office look like geniuses, but failing to invest significantly in the middle linebacker position could also end up being this team’s downfall in 2013.

Right now, however, it appears Henderson will get the first crack at making sure that doesn’t happen.

And that thousands of fans don’t end up telling him “we told you so.”

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Some hack bloggers (anybody know one?) thought it was highly likely the Vikings would target a middle linebacker early in the Draft.  Other media types, including one guy who should return a paycheck to his employer for this clunker, thought it was a “100% certainty” that the Vikings would draft Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in the first round.

They didn’t target a middle linebacker early on.  They didn’t wind up with Te’o… or Alec Ogletree… or Arthur Brown… or Kevin Minter.

In fact, they didn’t draft one until the seventh round, when they selected Michael Mauti from Penn State.  Mauti has the talent to be selected much earlier, but an injury history that rivals that of Humpty Dumpty.

Rick Spielman may have, for the second year in a row, used a little misdirection to lead to all of that speculation about the position.  Instead, he may have been planning to use Erin Henderson at that spot all along, and the proof of this might be the fact that Henderson has already packed on an extra eight or nine pounds in preparation for his possible move to the inside.  Another bit of proof might be that the Vikings quickly signed him to a two year deal worth $4 million, which seemed a little out of place considering how long they let him dangle on the free agent market last offseason before signing him to a one year prove-it deal.

Now that players are starting to flood Winter Park to take part in the offseason programs, things are perhaps starting to come into focus a little more, and we do know that the Vikings are planning on having Henderson play in the middle as of now.  This, of course, is a very similar path that his brother E,J. took to becoming a very solid middle linebacker for the Vikings.

Henderson has struggled with pass coverage at times, but he is quite a bit more athletic than last year’s starter Jasper Brinkley was, and could cover more ground.  Then, if someone like rookie Gerald Hodges can step into the weakside spot, the Vikings may have themselves a much faster group of linebackers than what we saw in 2012.  Considering the amount of mobile quarterbacks on the schedule this coming season, that might just be a key to their potential success, and is certainly something interesting to follow at the very least.

Tuesday was a day full of re-signings for the Minnesota Vikings and one big release in Antoine Winfield.  With a bunch of cap space and plenty of holes in the roster, Wednesday was sure to see some fireworks, right?

Well, not exactly.

The biggest real news to come out on Wednesday was some contract details regarding some of the players that have re-signed.  We have already talked about Phil Loadholt’s $25 million deal (click here) and Jerome Felton’s three year deal (click here), but local beat writers have learned details about the other contracts given out on Tuesday:

JAMARCA SANFORD, S:  The Vikings special teams ace, who has a knack for causing fumbles, got a nice pay bump when he signed a two year deal worth up to $5 million.  The deal included a half million dollar signing bonus and a half million dollar roster bonus.  His cap hit is expected to be $2.25 million this season and $2.75 in 2014.  The money suggests that the Vikings will once again rely on Mistral Raymond to battle Sanford for the starting gig across from Harrison Smith, but it isn’t enough to rule out an upgrade if one presents itself at the right level of value during free agency or the Draft.

ERIN HENDERSON, LB:  Henderson had spent his whole career with the Vikings and when he became a free agent last offseason the front office let him dangle on the open market for an extended period of time.  This year they took care of business a lot quicker by signing him to a two year deal, worth $4 million, on the first day of free agency.  The contract includes half million dollar bonuses nearly identical to Sanford’s, but has $250,000 incentives built into each year of the deal.  The Vikings still need linebacker help, with starter Jasper Brinkley visiting with the Giants and Cardinals, but Henderson coming back provides them with versatility and depth.  Henderson is only 26 years old.

JOE BERGER, C:  The backup lineman signed a veteran minimum one year deal, so he will earn a salary just south of $1 million.  Berger is 30 years old and brings with him the most experience of any current backup along the offensive line.  Fellow lineman Geoff Schwartz, who played quite well in place of Brandon Fusco at times last season, is not expected to return.

There are still unknown contract details and cap adjustments, but it is believed that the Vikings currently have $11-$13 million in salary cap space.  Their 11 draft picks will chew up some of that, but the Vikings still have plenty of cap room to play with, should they decide to do so.

Psst.  Rick Spielman.  Psst.  You know, Rick, you can actually sign players that didn’t wear a Vikings jersey last year.  Psst.  You know that, right?

The Vikings are continuing to use the first day of free agency to dip into the free agency pool and sign players they could have signs yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last… well, you get the point.

Adam Schefter has reported via Twitter that the Vikings have now re-signed weakside linebacker Erin Henderson to a two year deal.

Financial details are not yet known.

The Vikings let most of their pending free agents enter the three-day negotiating period without contracts in hand, but they were active on Monday re-signing a number of the top ones.

The latest Viking to re-up with the team is fullback Jerome Felton who helped pave the way for Adrian Peterson’s legendary 2012 season.

“Thanks to MN VIKINGS!!” Felton told the Twitter world.  “I’m back and excited about the future!!!!”

The fourth exclamation point really helped me realize he means it when he says he’d excited.

Linebackers Jasper Brinkley, Marvin Mitchell and Erin Henderson, offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, and wide out Devin Aromashodu are the only remaining Vikings left unsigned.

UPDATE:  The deal is reportedly for three years and worth up to $7.5 million, according to PFT.

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