5 Teams That Should Consider EJ Henderson
NFL fans will be excited to have the "dead zone" of the season at its end.
Monday, July 23 represents the first day that some teams will have veterans report to training camp and begin to have full-contact practices.
While there will be a lot of battles for starting positions as training camp progresses, there is one player in particular that we want to look at in this article.
That player is free-agent MLB E.J. Henderson.
Henderson is entering his age-32 season and has seen his share of ups and downs since being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round of the 2003 NFL draft.
Henderson (6'1, 245 lbs.) has played his entire nine-year career with the Vikings mostly as a starter and earned one Pro Bowl appearance.
In recent seasons, we've seen Henderson's play decline after suffering a devastating knee injury that left him with a titanium rod in his leg.
In 2011, Henderson was able to play all 16 games for the Vikings while collecting 110 tackles.
Henderson was constantly taken out of third-down situations and had to have his snaps monitored to keep him fresh.
Despite the injury history, Henderson offers a leadership and experience that isn't easily found there are teams that have some concerns entering training camp.
We are going to look at five teams that could benefit from Henderson's services with the last page giving my ranking of most to least likely spots where Henderson could end up.
After a disappointing end to the Atlanta Falcons' 2011 season they find themselves with two new coordinators.
Nolan being hired wasn't the only change, as the Falcons did not re-sign long-time starting MLB Curtis Lofton. He ended up signing with the Falcons rival the New Orleans Saints.
With a hole in the middle of the defense, the Falcons signed free-agent Lofa Tatupu to compete with second-year player Akeem Dent. At the close of minicamps, Dent was thought to have a slight edge, but the competition was still wide-open.
That was before Friday when Tatupu suffered a "serious" pectoral injury while working out. Tatupu was making his comeback after not playing in 2011 as he recovered from twin knee surgeries.
Tatupu is scheduled to visit Dr. James Andrews on Monday for an MRI. A visit to Dr. Andrews is never a good sign for athletes.
Dent has been pegged as a two-down linebacker but remains very raw after playing almost entirely on special teams during his rookie campaign.
A veteran, like Henderson, could be brought in on a one-year contract and compete right away for playing time.
The Raiders hired GM Reggie McKenzie from the Green Bay Packers organization and he wasted little time in firing head coach Hue Jackson and brought in Dennis Allen to be the next Raiders head coach.
There are a lot of question marks on this team, but no unit may have more than the linebackers.
In May 2012, starting MLB Rolando McClain was found guilty on charges of assault, reckless endangerment, menacing, and wrongful discharge of a firearm stemming from an incident back in November 2011.
With McClain is facing 180 days in jail and league suspensions, that leaves Travis Goethel as the starting MLB in Oakland.
Goethel, a 2010 sixth-round draft pick, missed the entire 2011 season after tearing a knee ligament.
Between McClain's legal woes and Goethel's injury history, middle linebacker has a real possibility of being addressed in training camp at some point.
It was recently reported by the Sports Xchange that EJ Henderson has lowered his financial expectations. This means that Henderson may be willing to take the veteran's minimum or slightly higher for the right team or situation.
This would make Henderson very attractive to many teams, especially the Raiders, who have limited salary-cap space.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Team No. 3 on this list is another team with a new head coach and a scheme change, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New HC Greg Schiano replaces fired HC Raheem Morris and his entire staff after a 4-12 season.
While Schiano has been fairly vague with details on his defensive scheme, he seems to want to run a very aggressive 4-3 defense.
Schiano also seems to have given the starting middle linebacker job to 2011 third-round pick Mason Foster with 2012 fifth-round pick Najee Goode backing him up.
But that was after the Bucs were in heavy pursuit of veteran free-agent Curtis Lofton before he ended up signing with the Saints.
Foster did see most of the snaps in OTA's with the first-team defense. Foster struggled often in 2011 by seemingly being overmatched as a rookie in both the run and coverage.
Goode can play all three spots at linebacker and will likely play mostly on special teams in his rookie season.
They obviously have, or at least had, some concerns with Foster as the starter and as training camp approaches and have a lot of youth at linebacker with rookie Lavonte David expected to start opposite of Quincy Black.
With EJ Henderson available at an affordable price, he could compete for a starting spot or at least help mentor Foster and provide insurance behind him.
The Bucs play in a NFC South division that has some teams with very good running games in Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. A run-stuffer like Henderson is valuable on first and second down, even with declining skills.
While the Seattle Seahawks have one of the up-and-coming defenses, they did lose a big piece when the leading tackler from the past three seasons, David Hawthorne, did not re-sign.
The Seahawks were hoping for an open competition with veteran Barrett Ruud and rookie Bobby Wagner this offseason at middle linebacker.
So far this offseason, Ruud has been very limited from groin, knee and shoulder injuries that plagued him in 2011.
At this point, Wagner seems to have a grasp on the starting job and has even stepped up in handling some of the play-calling responsibilities.
Wagner is known to be an athletic, hard-hitting linebacker, but there are questions on his ability to handle the run.
If Ruud proves that he isn't recovered from nagging injuries, the Seahawks brass could cut bait on the veteran and look for another experienced player like EJ Henderson to backup or challenge Wagner in training camp.
While the Minnesota Vikings are the team that let EJ Henderson go in the first place, his replacement hasn't made fans forget about him quite yet.
This offseason, the Vikings new GM, Rick Spielman, stated that this is a rebuilding team and has gone after younger players and jettisoned veterans like Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera and EJ Henderson.
The problem that has Vikings fans worked up isn't that Jasper Brinkley doesn't have a lot of experience; it's that he can't seem to stay on the field.
Brinkley missed all of 2011 after suffering a hip injury but returned this offseason, only to suffer a groin injury that kept him out almost all of minicamp and OTAs.
The depth chart behind Brinkley has little-used veterans Tyronne McKenzie and Marvin Mitchell, who don't seem like viable options if Brinkley doesn't earn the position.
While EJ Henderson claims he is healthy and willing to accept a lesser contract, the Vikings have not seemed interested so far.
There were reports that the Vikings did offer EJ Henderson a contract early in free agency, but there have been no reports recently that would lead me to believe they are pursuing Henderson.
I believe the Vikings are moving forward with their youth movement and Henderson doesn't fit that plan.
If Brinkley doesn't earn the starting job, EJ's brother Erin Henderson could be moved from the outside to the middle before they would sign a veteran.
While there are certainly some teams that could use his services, even more teams could surface as training camp starts and player inevitably get injured.
Here are my rankings of potential landing spots right now.
1. Oakland 2. Atlanta 3. Tampa Bay 4. Minnesota 5. Seattle