After letting Jasper Brinkley walk via free agency, the Minnesota Vikings are left without a tested talent at the middle linebacker spot. How they plan on filling the void, however, is still unclear.
At this point, the free agent market is all but empty in terms of starting-caliber middle linebackers. The Vikings have been linked to Chicago Bears veteran Brian Urlacher, but interest appears to have been minimal. There are other options available such as Karlos Dansby, Justin Durant or Daryl Smith, but all come with their fair share of hang-ups.
So what about promoting from within to fill the middle linebacker spot?
Well, that’s the problem. There’s almost no experience amongst the few players that the Vikings currently have available. While Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson are ready to man the outsides, Minnesota has only Larry Dean and Audie Cole currently under contract.
Dean, a former undrafted free agent, has proven himself to be nothing more than a special teams player during his two NFL seasons. He’s extremely raw and undersized, and will likely never develop enough to see consistent defensive snaps.
As for Cole, the Vikings’ seventh-round pick in 2012, the jury is still out.
“He’d be an option,” Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said when asked about Cole filling the middle linebacker role. “We played him some there in the preseason. We have to get someone to plug in to that position, whether it be Audie Cole or whoever may be on our current roster or draft somebody.”
As Frazier mentions, the Vikings could also look to April’s 2013 NFL Draft for a middle linebacker. Currently in possession of 11 picks, Minnesota will have plenty of opportunities to add some talent to the position. Especially with two first-round picks, the Vikings could be one selection away from finding their franchise middle linebacker.
Unless Cole improves by leaps and bounds this offseason, it’s unlikely that the Vikings hand him the keys to their defense. There are too many physical limitations holding him back from being a capable starter, which could force him into a career backup role.
The Vikings better hope someone is available at No. 23 or No. 25 in April because pickings are slim via free agency and their on-roster options are limited as well.
Brinkley isn’t looking so bad after all.