Erin Henderson was the Minnesota Vikings’ second-leading tackler this season (behind fellow linebacker Chad Greenway), with 112 total (69 solo), and he also ranked fourth on the team with four sacks. But the six-year veteran was reportedly arrested on suspicion of DUI on Wednesday, his second such arrest in a six-week span. The first arrest occurred on Nov.19, and he missed Minnesota’s game the following weekend against the Green Bay Packers due to what the team initially cited as a “personal” issue. He did not start the following week against the Chicago Bears either, which opened the door for Audie Cole to shine at middle linebacker in his absence.
Former head coach Leslie Frazier said in December that he never wanted Henderson to be the Vikings’ starting middle linebacker this season, and these two recent arrests have his future with the team up in the air even more. But should Henderson be released?
Cole had 35 total tackles from Week 12-Week 14, and he wound up starting five games in his second season. Despite missing Week 17 with an ankle issue, the Vikings may have their middle linebacker of the future.
Minnesota drafted Penn State linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges last April, but both guys saw little action as rookies, while Marvin Mitchell started 10 games in a season where the team’s playoff hopes were out the window in October. Mauti was working his way back to full strength after a torn ACL as a senior, but for an unimpressive player like Mitchell to see such a significant role over younger players is another black mark on the outgoing coaching staff.
Barring something unforeseen, Henderson will be released after the Super Bowl. He is due to make $1.95 million next season, with just $250,000 of that guaranteed, so releasing him would not be a significant issue for the Vikings. Apart from that his mediocre level of play made it far from certain that the team would have brought him back for 2014, regardless of any financial implications in terms of the salary cap or the off-the-field issues that have now entered the picture.
The Vikings will need to look to add some talent at linebacker during May’s draft, but I think the biggest positive development to come out of Henderson’s absence will be the opportunity Cole, Mauti and Hodges should get with a new coaching staff in place.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.