If Vikings get their way, Erin Henderson won't hit free-agent market
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One week from the start of NFL free agency, the Minnesota Vikings appear to have a chance to lock down their best young free agent before the market opens.
The Vikings have made clear they want to retain weakside linebacker Erin Henderson, NFL sources said on Tuesday, and there were indications the sides have made progress towards a "bridge" deal that would keep him with the team for another two or three years.
No deal was imminent as of Tuesday night, though, and the length of the contract may be a sticking point as Henderson weighs the option of at least testing the market when free agency begins on March 13.
Henderson, 25, recorded 91 tackles (56 solo), eight tackles for loss, 1½ sacks and two forced fumbles in 15 games last season, his first as a starter. The website ProFootballFocus.com rated Henderson fourth among 4-3 outside linebackers even though he played only 53.8% of the snaps, mostly in the base defense.
After playing last season under a $1.2 million restricted tender, Henderson is in position to cash in as an unrestricted free agent this year. But with so many other question marks on defense, the Vikings would like to make sure Henderson stays put.
General manager Rick Spielman, coach Leslie Frazier and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski met with Vikings ownership on Friday to discuss the team's plans for free agency. Several issues required further discussion, though, and another meeting is scheduled for Saturday, after Spielman returns from a scouting trip.
Most notable, the Vikings must finalize decisions on potential releases or restructures with several veterans. Guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera both are candidates, as is cornerback Cedric Griffin, whom sources said has no desire to return but might be kept around as an insurance policy until the Vikings find a replacement.
Complicating the cornerback situation is Chris Cook's domestic assault trial, in which jury selection continued on Tuesday. The Vikings hope to have him available in 2012 but may not know for sure by the time they'd want to make a decision on Griffin.
Frazier expressed support for Griffin at last month's NFL scouting combine, saying he's optimistic about the 29-year-old's chances for bouncing back with a full year to recover from his second knee reconstruction. However, Spielman has final say over the roster and seems unlikely to stand by a player who became a problem on and off the field in 2011.
The Vikings are a little more than $10 million under the 2012 salary cap and could save another $3.65 million by dumping Griffin, who is due a $4.1 million base salary and a $50,000 workout bonus next season. Hutchinson ($7 million) and Herrera ($3,583,335) also are highly unlikely to return at their scheduled levels of compensation.
Other starters who could become free agents include middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and safety Husain Abdullah, whose concussion issues over the past two years have clouded the Vikings' willingness to invest in him. Henderson and Shiancoe both are 31 years old and don't fit with the team's youth movement.
Quarterback Sage Rosenfels, defensive tackles Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, receivers Devin Aromashodu and Greg Camarillo, tackle Scott Kooistra, cornerback Benny Sapp, safeties Tyrell Johnson and Jarrad Page, long snapper Matt Katula and linebacker Xavier Adibi also can become unrestricted free agents. Tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser retired.