The Minnesota Vikings have not yet announced a decision on MLB E.J. Henderson, and should they choose to move on without him, they should make a serious attempt to sign Seattle Seahawks MLB David Hawthorne.
Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman has defended his strategy of not spending much in free agency this offseason, but in allowing E.J. to potentially leave, there would be a gap in perhaps the most important position of the Vikings' base 4-3 Tampa-two defense.
After the New Orleans Saints picked up free agent LB Curtis Lofton, 25, from Atlanta on Saturday, the Vikings' best option to solidify their linebacker corps was off the market. This leaves Hawthorne, 26, as the best viable option for the Vikings in free agency.
In 2011, Hawthorne has 115 tackles, two sacks, six passes defended and three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown). He took over the starting job from Lofa Tatupu in 2009 and has played in all but one game ever since.
It isn't just his ability to tackle in the open field and provide run support that makes him an attractive prospect for the Vikings, but his awareness in coverage. Not only can he make plays on the ball, but he can turn the play around like he did against the Eagles in 2011 when he returned an interception 77 yards.
The Vikings have seen some good production from backup Jasper Brinkley, but the question is whether or not he'll be ready to take over as the full-time starter after going down on a serious hip injury that kept him out for all of 2011.
I'm all for giving Brinkley the opportunity to win the starting spot, but with a lucrative free agent like Hawthorne, some competition could be best for a team that needs some fire.
The Seahawks have shown little interest in re-signing Hawthorne this offseason, and after being spurned by both the Saints, who instead signed Lofton, and the Lions, who re-signed Stephen Tulloch, he should be plenty motivated to turn some heads in 2012.
Now that the two aforementioned LBs are off the market, Hawthorne's price tag may go up a bit. Fortunately for the Vikings, they should have plenty of space to attempt such a signing.
The only player they really spent a chunk of their cap space on was TE John Carlson. Other than him, the Vikings have stayed to signing low-level guys to small contracts and re-signing players like Erin Henderson and Devin Aromashodu to one-year contracts. If I had to guess, I would bet they still have over $15 million they could spend in free agency.
Regardless of who they choose to sign or not, one thing will become clear by this situation. Should the Vikings sign a MLB, they most certainly will not be drafting one early on in the draft. Otherwise, you should expect one to be drafted in the first four rounds at the end of April.
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