Future Free Agents: Inside Linebackers

The Vikings appear set to go into 2007 without their starting middle linebacker (Napoleon Harris) from the previous season, but with first-rounder Chad Greenway looking for the opportunity to start, that means the Vikings aren't likely to shop for a replacement starter. Still, there are a few quality inside linebackers that could be available and many more experienced backups.

In December, Napoleon Harris talked in-depth about how he felt better about the 2006 coaching staff of the Minnesota Vikings, which gave him a chance to show his talents while playing with a cast on his arm.

But the closer it gets to the start of free agency on March 2, the more it looks like Napoleon Harris will no longer be a Viking, despite a solid season anchoring the team's new defense from his middle linebacker spot. The team already has plenty invested in the contracts of linebackers Ben Leber (acquired last year in free agency), Chad Greenway (a first-round draft pick last April) and E.J. Henderson (re-signed to a $25 million deal in December).

Henderson is the most likely to assume Harris's old role at middle linebacker, a position Henderson has wanted to play since he entered the league, while Greenway likely will get every opportunity to win the weakside linebacker role under new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Harris finished the season third on the team with 96 tackles, but Henderson was easily the team leader with 142 in the Tampa-2 playmaking role at weakside linebacker. Even with the opportunity to make more plays on the weak side, Henderson said he still saw himself as a middle linebacker and still had a desire to play there.

That will likely leave the Vikings only looking for backup linebackers, and that might not even come in free agency, where the available talent could run out quickly.

London Fletcher, Buffalo Bills – After four seasons with the Rams and five more with the Bills, Fletcher is a strong combination of experience and talent at middle linebacker. With 1,091 tackles and 27.5 sacks to his credit, he has proved himself, but his nine years in the league could keep his salary demands in check at a position that takes a beating. Even so, a number of teams have already been rumored to be interested in him, and the Bills are expected to let him go.

Kawika Mitchell, Kansas City Chiefs – Mitchell is entering his first season as an unrestricted free agent and could find a team willing to pay on the promise that his career continues to ascend. He has averaged 83 tackles the last two seasons. The Chiefs are said to be interested in re-signing him, but other teams are already reportedly looking to make a move should he hit free agency.

Randall Godfrey, San Diego Chargers – Godfrey's 11 seasons in the league (with the Cowboys, Titans, Seahawks and Chargers) are likely to keep him from a big payday. Eleven years at middle linebacker means a lot of mileage, and Godfrey is reportedly considering retirement.

Peter Sirmon, Tennessee Titans – With four years of serious production (69 tackles or more) in his seven NFL years, Sirmon should get serious consideration from a number of teams looking to solidify the middle


Monty Beisel, Arizona Cardinals
Keith Burns, Denver Broncos
Vinny Ciurciu, Carolina Panthers
Danny Clark, New Orleans Saints
James Darling, Arizona Cardinals
Don Davis, New England Patriots
Rod Davis, Minnesota Vikings (restricted)
Jay Foreman, San Francisco 49ers
Ryan Fowler, Dallas Cowboys (restricted)
Barry Gardner, New England Patriots
Tony Gilbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
Larry Izzo, New England Patriots
Tim Johnson, Baltimore Ravens
Niko Koutouvides, Seattle Seahawks (restricted)
Rob Morris, Indianapolis Colts
Carlos Polk, San Diego Chargers
Dashon Polk, Houston Texans
Wali Rainer, Houston Texans
Robert Reynolds, Tennessee Titans (restricted)
Rich Scanlon, Kansas City Chiefs (restricted)
T.J. Slaughter, San Francisco 49ers
Mason Unck, Cleveland Browns
Matt Wilhelm, San Diego Chargers

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