Greenway has spent the last 10 years capably manning the position (whether it was called weak side or strong side) with two Pro Bowl selections to prove it. There are options already on the roster that the team is expressing confidence in and made plans for knowing that Greenway was likely to retire after the 2016 season.
Last offseason, the Vikings signed former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, but he played in less than 4 percent of the defensive snaps in 2016 with Greenway able to stay healthy in his part-time role. Edmond Robinson is developing but didn’t get any time on defense last year, yet head coach Mike Zimmer expressed confidence in both of them.
“I think those guys have a chance to be good players. I’ve known Lamur for a long time,” Zimmer said last week. “Edmond, I don’t think he had the year that he felt like he should have last year. But he’s a young, talented guy that has shown a lot of progress over the course of two years. The nickel position is kind of being more valued now.”
With Captain Munnerlyn playing in almost 62 percent of the defensive snaps and Greenway playing in less than 40 percent, it shows how often the Vikings are in their nickel defense when Greenway comes off the field and Munnerlyn replaces him to cover a slot receiver.
“I was talking to coaches [last week] about the 46-man roster. We were talking about it used to be two-deep and then two specialists that make up 46,” Zimmer said. “Now you’ve got three specialists, a nickel who is a specialist, a third receiver who is a specialist.”
Another option could be to consider moving middle linebacker Eric Kendricks to the weakside and replacing him with a to-be-named/acquired middle linebacker. It was something the Vikings mentioned as a possibility in 2015 when they drafted Kendricks.
However, Kendricks has played very well in the middle and it doesn’t sound like an ideal option at this point.
“I don’t think moving him right now is the right thing to do. He’s played good the last two years. I think he probably played his best, really good [in 2016],” Zimmer said of Kendricks. “He’s a very instinctive guy that plays all over the place. At the end of the day, when we get in the sub packages, he’s going to be in there anyways. If he’s lined up in the middle he has a chance to make a few more plays everywhere. So I don’t foresee moving him.”
The third option is to look outside the team and bring in a free agent or draft pick to create competition with Lamur and Robinson on the weakside and provide depth throughout the linebacker corps.
Free agency provides numerous options in which the Vikings could wait to find a bargain after the first week of inflated prices, and the draft is stocked with solid talent at the position, as well.
For now, the Vikings are in a wait-and-see game, but the prices in mid-level free agency should produce some reasonable figures to let them know if the replacement option resides there, in the draft or is already on their roster.