Vikes Lock Up Henderson

The Vikings took a step to the future Friday by signing linebacker E.J. Henderson to a five-year contract extension to assure that he wouldn't hit the free agent market after the 2006 season.

The Vikings made their intentions clear Friday about the focus of the future of their defensive unit by signing linebacker E.J. Henderson to a five-year contract extension. The deal is believed to be worth more than $25 million with $10 million locked up in guarantees and signing bonus money.

Henderson, who struggled at times under previous defensive coordinators, has excelled in the Tampa-2 defense employed by Mike Tomlin. He leads the team with 108 tackles and has shown the signs of backing up his anger for slipping into the second round of the 2003 draft.

While Henderson has had some off-field incidents that have brought negative press on the organization, it is clear that the Vikings are confident that he can be a big part of the team's future and be a contributor at a high level.

Henderson was one of the players that NFL analysts theorized would be a hot commodity on the open market – especially considering that every team gets a $7 million bump in the salary cap this year. By locking him down before potential suitors can show up sends a clear indication that the Vikings are willing to spend to keep their fourth-ranked defense together and try to build on the offense to catch up.

* Henderson is the fourth Viking to sign a long-term extension since the end of September. In the biggest signing, the Vikings made sure Bryant McKinnie didn't get on the free agent market – as well as making good on their "poison pill" contract with Steve Hutchinson – as well as making "Level-2" signings with long snapper Cullen Loeffler and tight end Jeff Dugan.
* A deal with Napoleon Harris may not be as easy to accomplish as Henderson's was. There is a buzz inside the organization that Henderson would be best suited in the Tampa-2 defense to play middle linebacker, with injured rookie Chad Greenway taking his place at outside linebacker in 2007.
* Look for Kevin Williams to be in the sites of team management as the next big signing. Williams still has one year left on his current deal, but, with Pro Bowl accolades likely coming in his near future, the time might be right to lock him up as well – using some of the estimated $30 million in 2007 cap availability to give him a big chunk of his deal up front – as has been the Vikings' recent history of signing long-term contracts.
* The NFL Network is going to carry the Vikings-Packers game next Thursday. However, for those in the Vikings home market, the game will be available. Through a bidding process, KSTP-TV, the Twin Cities ABC affiliate, won the rights to broadcast the game on free television. For the rest of you, it will either be Dish Network, some Comcast customers, or heading out to a sports bar to see the game.

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