Linebackers intriguing in free agency

The Vikings could re-sign Chad Greenway for another season, but if they don’t there are plenty of options in free agency. We review four of them and how they might fit.

Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway has been an integral part of the team’s defense for the better part of the last decade. He is now 33 years old and his playing time has been trimmed.

His role has been diminish to that as more of a two-down linebacker when everyone on the defense is healthy. He did see a lot of snaps last year in nickel formations with injuries to both Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, and that proved to be a valuable role.

Last offseason there was a lot of speculation going around that Greenway was going to retire after the 2015 season. But after the Vikings’ playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks the 33-year-old linebacker said that he wanted to come back for another season. He later said that he would come back for one more season even if it wasn’t with the Vikings.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has gone on record multiple times talking about how Greenway is the type of player that he loves to have on his team. Even though Greenway is older, he is still a solid player on defense and a great leader in the locker room on what is still a very young team, and a very young linebacker group.

In the end, the two sides are likely going to come to an agreement as it is hard to believe Greenway would finish his career anywhere but Minnesota. But let’s just say something goes awry and the two sides can’t reach an agreement. What outside linebackers are out there that the Vikings could bring in to replace Greenway?

Von Miller – Right away everyone is going to look at Von Miller and rightfully so. He is the stud of this free-agent linebacker class and is arguably one of the best in the NFL, but this signing would probably never happen. His price tag is going to be more than the Vikings would be willing to spend, they already have a young linebacker who can rush off the edge in Barr, and Miller just seems to be better fit for a 3-4 scheme and the Vikings run a 4-3 (although that was initially thought about Barr, too). Either way, scratch that off the realistic wish list.

Bruce Irvin – After Miller, the next highest rated linebacker would likely be Bruce Irvin from the Seattle Seahawks. He is a good all-around player that never really developed into a dominating player that one would expect a top-15 pick to become.

In 2015, the 28-year old linebacker recorded 38 tackles, 5½ sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and two pass deflections. He has never been one to rack up a lot of tackles in a single season – his career-high is just 40. Instead, he has been used more as a pass rusher, totaling 5 ½ or more sacks in a three of his four seasons.

Zimmer would likely be intrigued by Irvin’s ability to do almost anything in a defense, but in the end the Vikings will probably look elsewhere. Irvin will likely fetch too big a price tag for the team to justify signing him, especially when he might only end up being a two-down linebacker and the Vikings having bigger needs on offense.

Tahir Whitehead – One option the Vikings could definitely go for is Detroit Lions outside linebacker Tahir Whitehead. On the field, he is a solid, all-around player who does not appear to have many weakness, but doesn’t really excel in anything either. He has been in a constant position battle with other linebackers on the Lions’ roster, so the team could be OK letting him walk, knowing there are other players on their roster that could fill the void.

While Whitehead did play well in pass coverage, his real strength appeared to be in stopping the run, which is what the Vikings would be looking for. Their defense struggled from time to time against the run, especially against bigger, more physical running backs.

With Barr and Kendricks on the team, Whitehead’s role would be that of a two-down linebacker, which could actually benefit him. The biggest issue is he has primarily played as a strongside linebacker his entire career, which is where Barr plays in the Vikings defense.  That shouldn’t be too much on an issue, though, as most players on the Vikings defense say the two linebacker spots are pretty interchangeable and Zimmer likes to make sure players can play both.

Mark Barron – One final player that could be one the Vikings target in free agency if they do not re-sign Greenway is Mark Barron of the St. Louis Rams. Now, Barron has been a bit of a disappointment since he was drafted seventh overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. They then decided to move on from him in 2014 when they traded him to the Rams part way through the season for a fourth- and sixth-round pick.

Barron played safety in college and in the start of his NFL career, but the Rams saw that it was not really working and decided to move him to linebacker back in October. There were clear improvements in his game as he finished the season with a career-high in tackles (116) and forced fumbles (four), while also adding one sack and five passes defensed.

The Rams have already expressed that they were not going to be exercising Barron’s fifth-year option, so he will hit the free-agent market this offseason. It will be interesting to see what kind of attention he gets, but after underperforming for a majority of his career and switching positions it is possible a team could get him for a reasonable price.

What’s nice if the Vikings did sign him is that he played weakside linebacker after making the position change, which is the spot Greenway has played. His role would also be limited and simplified, making it easier to learn, since he would only be a two-down player most of the time.

In the end, though, the Vikings are more than likely going to bring back Greenway for one final season. They will then either draft a player this offseason to replace him once he does hang up his cleats or continue to groom one of the younger players already on the roster to one day take over for him. 


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