Minnesota Vikings: What They Lose by Letting E.J. Henderson Walk in Free Agency

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 29, 2012

For a 32 year old MLB, the Vikings' E.J. Henderson is still quite effective, but he may have to go in free agency
For a 32 year old MLB, the Vikings' E.J. Henderson is still quite effective, but he may have to go in free agencyAdam Bettcher/Getty Images

Despite having a number of unrestricted free agents to consider this offseason, it's not looking like the Minnesota Vikings will be using the franchise tag at all.

Even if they did, it's not likely they'd choose to use it on middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who will be 32 years old when the season starts and has been slowed some by injuries in recent years.

Middle linebacker is not an easily replaceable position. But the Vikings have a better chance this year to find a worthwhile starter to take Henderson's spot as the 2012 linebacker draft class one of the best in many years.

The Vikings might possess enough talent already on their roster to provide a replacement for Henderson, such as Jasper Brinkley, who missed all of the 2011 season with a hip injury, or the newly-signed Elimimian Solomon, who came to the team in January from the CFL.

However, Henderson's contributions to the team over his nine-year career are going to be missed, as is his veteran experience.

Henderson has been a Viking for the entirety of his time in the NFL, notching a total of 753 tackles (554 solo), 15.5 sacks, 12 forced fumbles with nine recoveries and five interceptions—one returned for a touchdown—in 125 total regular season games.

Even in 2011, when it seemed like only defensive end Jared Allen was making an impact on defense, Henderson still continued to perform at a high level, with 110 total tackles, two sacks and three forced fumbles.

By letting Henderson go, the Vikings save themselves a good deal of money and allow them to bring in younger players while building for the future.

If the Vikings retain Henderson, it wouldn't be for more than a year. Considering their chances to draft a long-term starter this year are higher than ever with such a deep draft class of linebackers, it is ultimately in the team's best interest to let Henderson go.

Without Henderson, however, the team will lack leadership at one of their most important defensive positions. Committing yourself to youth is something every team has to do at one point or another, but its benefits come at a price.

Henderson is aging, to be sure, and that combined with a titanium rod in his leg isn't going to do any favors for his mobility. However, he's still an effective linebacker, even if he's been priced- and aged-out in Minnesota.