EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL's New League Year is on the horizon.
It officially begins at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 16, which means the 2022 edition of free agency is also quickly approaching.
Vikings.com is providing a position-by-position outlook of Minnesota's roster ahead of free agency. We started with quarterbacks on Monday and continued Tuesday with running backs and receivers. On Wednesday, we covered offensive linemen and tight ends. Thursday brought a look at the defensive line, so now we'll take a look at linebackers.
The Vikings defense is expected to undergo changes brought by new Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell and could include more 3-4 base principles than the 4-3 that Minnesota has used for years. This could lead to some different responsibilities and usages of linebackers, as well as some increased opportunities for young players.
View the best photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks from the 2021 season.
Here's a look at which Vikings linebackers are scheduled to return or become free agents, Minnesota's potential needs, as well as notes on players from other teams that are set to become free agents.
Tuf Borland, Ryan Connelly, Troy Dye, Eric Kendricks, Blake Lynch and Chazz Surratt
Borland, an undrafted rookie free agent last year, was called up from the practice squad for two games exclusively for special teams duties.
Connelly, the Eden Prairie native initially drafted by the Giants in 2019, has played 198 and 216 snaps on special teams in the past two seasons, respectively, for the Vikings.
A fourth-round pick in 2020, Dye played more on defense as a rookie (202 snaps) than in his second season (54 snaps) because the Vikings were healthier at linebacker. He played 367 special teams snaps in 2021.
The new coaching staff has probably noticed Kendricks' ways of positively affecting the defense while they've used film to evaluate the roster. Kendricks is coming off a season with career bests in tackles (143) and sacks (5.0).
Lynch, who joined Minnesota as an undrafted rookie in 2020, started six games last season. Lynch recorded 2.0 sacks, forcing and recovering a fumble that helped Minnesota take a lead late at Detroit that didn't stand.
Surratt is an intriguing question mark. He had the athleticism that led to his selection in the third round but hadn't played much college football on the defensive side of the football. The former North Carolina quarterback only played 98 snaps (all on special teams) in his rookie season.
View the best photos of Vikings LB Anthony Barr from the 2021 season.
SCHEDULED TO BECOME FREE AGENTS:
Anthony Barr (unrestricted free agent)
Two months and two days ago, Barr's social media posts (and postgame press conference) indicated that he was approaching Minnesota's 2021 season finale as his last game in a Vikings uniform. Many thought Barr's time with the Vikings was going to end when he hit free agency in spring 2019, but he opted to return for less money than the Jets offered.
Nick Vigil (unrestricted free agent)
Vigil's signing was somewhat unheralded across the league, but he started 12 of the 16 games he played for Minnesota and recorded 85 tackles, a sack and returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown. Vigil also handled the defensive calls in games before Barr returned to action.
Any conversation about Vikings linebackers since 2014 (Barr) and 2015 (Kendricks) has centered on the former UCLA teammates and roommates. The previous staff stood on the table from the get-go with Barr, who was selected with the only top-10 pick the Vikings have had since 2013.
New Head Coach Kevin O'Connell was asked a general question about the defense during his introductory press conference and included Barr and Kendricks in his response.
"Those guys have long since been huge issues in this league for people defensively," O'Connell said. "I think there's ways to use those guys and allow them to play with an attacking mindset while they're still responsible for the things that they're responsible for defensively."
New General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was asked specifically about Barr at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.
"That's an incredible person. Every day, I walk past his Man of the Year [display in the team facility], and you think of Anthony Barr and what he's meant to this community, to this team," Adofo-Mensah said. "When we all do these interviews for GM jobs, you look at the roster: 'Anthony Barr, whoa, can we work with him?'
"He's incredibly versatile, especially in a 3-4 scheme and things like that," Adofo-Mensah said, going back to Barr's days with the Bruins. "Again, it's the puzzle pieces, though. We've got a lot of things to consider, a lot of ways to go forward. He's somebody I texted just to, first and foremost, tell him I appreciated him and 'I'm here and I'd love to hear your opinion,' and things like that. But I can't speak to more specific things than that right now."
Beyond that dynamic duo, which could be split if Barr isn't here, the linebackers have room to grow with increased opportunities, and the Vikings could try to add experienced depth via free agency or find impact players in the draft, or both.
WHO'S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE?
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal recently released his list of the top 101 potential free agents, with linebackers making the current group.
The following linebackers are listed in order of their overall rankings: 17. Bobby Wagner (MLB), 19. De'Vondre Campbell (ILB), 54. Barr (OLB), 67. Kyzir White (LB), 77. Foyesade Oluokun (LB), 91. Dont'a Hightower (LB), 96. Dante Fowler (OLB), 98. Leighton Vander Esch (OLB), 100. Jayon Brown (ILB)
Wagner's a six-time selection to the All-Pro First Team and an eight-time Pro Bowler, but his 10-season run in Seattle just came to a close with his release.
Campbell was part of Atlanta's run to appear in Super Bowl LI as a rookie. The former Minnesota Gopher set a new career high with 146 tackles for the Packers last season in earning his first All-Pro designation. Oluokun, Campbell's former Falcons teammate, led the NFL with 192 tackles and nabbed a career-best three picks to finish his rookie deal.