The Minnesota Vikings are in the market for an outside linebacker after a decade of the position being held down by future Ring of Honor inductee Chad Greenway. While all of the talk after the Vikings’ season finale was clearly pointing at retirement, Greenway has yet to make the official announcement.
The $2.75 million he was on the books for could be used to bring in his replacement, whether at greater, equal or lesser value.
There are a couple of free-agent linebackers that appear clearly out of the Vikings’ price range – Melvin Ingram and Nick Perry. Both will be too expensive if they’re allowed to hit the open market, but there are some candidates who could be of interest to the Vikings.
These are a few of the veteran options that may be viewed as potential future Vikings, whether for the long-term or a one-year deal.
Akeem Ayers – Ayers has played six seasons with four different teams – Tennessee, New England, St. Louis and Indianapolis. He has talent, but hasn’t always been a full-time starter. He played on a one-year deal for $2.6 million with the Colts last year – less than the Vikings paid Greenway. He might be had a team-friendly price and could excel in Mike Zimmer’s defense.
Courtney Upshaw – After spending four seasons with the Ravens, Upshaw signed a one-year deal for just $1.25 million to play with the Falcons last year. If the Vikings believe he can fit in their scheme, he could be a big contributor because he has the requisite skills to be a starter.
Michael Morgan – He never got his chance in Seattle because the top linebacker spots were taken. He’s never had 20 tackles in a season, but has been a core special teams player and can be a threat if given a chance. A little football old, now at 29 with six years in the league, he can be had on the cheap.
Jarvis Jones – A part time starter for the Steelers in his four years (35 starts in 50 career games), he was on the field for about 50 percent of defensive snaps for Pittsburgh last year. He hasn’t played 16 games in any season, so his injury history will be a knock against him.
Paul Kruger – Kruger spent four years as a role player with the Ravens, three years as a starter in Cleveland and 2016 with the Saints. While he appeared a bit miscast in a 4-3 defense after spending his first seven years in a 3-4, he has the range and instincts to make plays, which could suit him well. He has a reasonable asking price – he signed for $3 million last year with the Saints, so he’s likely on the Vikings’ radar.
Alex Okafor – He lost his starting job last year and is likely heading out of Arizona because their defensive money should go to pending free agent Chandler Jones. When he played full-time, he made plays and, having just turned 26, his best football is in front of him. Whether he has a free agent buzz that would create competition to inflate his price is the biggest question for the Vikings.
John Simon – A sleeper pick. He has never been a full-time starter in Houston, but has a couple of seasons with more than 50 tackles and 8½ sacks over the last two years. He has the potential to be a playmaker if given a full-time opportunity and the Vikings look like a decent fit.
Erik Walden – Entering his 10th season, he turns 32 before the start of the regular season, but has been a full-time starter for two years with Green Bay and four years with the Colts and is coming off a career-high 11 sacks last season. He will likely have some suitors, but, if the price is right, he can’t be discounted.
Trent Cole – He turns 35 in October and hasn’t been a full-time starter since leaving the Eagles in 2014 after 10 seasons. He’s nearing the end of the line, so any interest would be in the very short term with an eye on grooming a young replacement.
Although we still seem to be waiting for the inevitable announcement of Greenway’s retirement, the Vikings are moving forward and one of these players may well be in their field of vision for bringing in a replacement (or depth if Emmanuel Lamur is able to secure the starting spot).