Free Agency

Minnesota Vikings Free Agency Preview: Inside Linebackers

[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, safetiescornerbacks, 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.

Show More

Carl Knowles

Carl Knowles (Contributor) is a former member of the Professional Bowler Association and an avid lifelong Vikings fan. When he is not bowling you can find him on websites and forum pages sharing his creative insight and enthusiasm for the Minnesota Vikings any chance he gets. Carl was a Phoenix Institute of Technology and Purdue University standout who currently enjoys the challenge of being a graphic director in the printing business. You can follow him on twitter @carlknowles_vt.

Related Articles


  1. I’ll cry if we are stuck with Brinkley again. I have wanted the guy gone since day 1, hes as bad as Charlie Johnson. I wouldnt mind McClain but I’d prefer Audie Cole or a rookie(Kendricks, Perryman, or Ben McKinney).

  2. Skol12,
    The question is did Zimmer see enough development in Hodges at the “mike” position to move him primarilly to a middle position and work a few more snaps away from Brinkley. Audie doesn’t have the man to man coverage ablitiy that Hodges does.

    The step up from college to the pros as a middle linebacker is a tough transition with all the schemes and verbage to learn. A veteran like (Greenway or Brinkley) can be a valuable asset for rookies and younger players. I understand your uneasyness with Brinkley, and I would say that most fans agree with you and are ready for a major change at the MLB position. I just don’t see a great FA long term option worth making a splash for. Signing Brinkley cheap, restructuring Greenway, and adding another year of drafting and develop young talent around them seems to be working for Zimmer.

    1. I agree Cole isn’t as good as hodges in man coverage but I’d give him the edge in zone. Both are much better than Jasper who couldn’t cover anynody. The way I see it is Cole has the intangibles and would be a solid starter. I wouldn’t be too opposed to Hodges/Cole/Barr with Greenway as a three position sub. Hodges/Barr in nickel situations.
      As for the veteran leadership I have full confidence a Greenway deal will get done for him to remain a viking and rotate in.

    1. Easier said than done… they might be off the board by pick 45
      And if you pass on blue chip guys like Vic Beasley or Shaq Thompson… And you come up empty handed… your job as a GM might be in jeopardy.

  3. Really thought the ‘Zim-Bop-way’ was going to be to bring in Bengal Malauga at mike, since he’s resigned, may need to secure one of the three top projected LIB, may require require effort( trade up) in second round, sleeper may be kid out of Clemson, if not, could possibly try Cole/Hodges platoon, Audie one running downs, Hodges on pass-likely downs. Cole seems to have some “it” qualities -first two plays in rookie preseason were for pick six’. But how many “running downs” are there any more? Hodges the more athletic, but, how do you say in Italian, is a little ‘fragilitay’ not sure if would have us scrambling to locate Brinkley from under a Palm tree somewhere