I recently mentioned an article in which Pro Football Focus pins Ben Leber as the best pass rushing linebacker in the league over the last three years. So, it is only fitting that Leber’s name surfaced shortly thereafter in a quick interview with Access Vikings.
After signing with the Vikings in 2006, Leber has been a starting linebacker ever since, but now stands a very realistic shot of moving on via free agency once the CBA situation is settled.
“The reality is if they were really, really wanting me back then maybe something would have been said before the lockout,” said Leber. “I had a good meeting with Coach [Leslie] Frazier and [vice president of player personnel Rick] Spielman at the end of the year. Each side expressed how much I’d like to be here and finish my career here. I am hopeful and hope that I can come back and be a Viking again. But I’m also a realist and I’ve been through this process before. It’s not always up to you and you have to be willing to move on.”
“I get a little anxiety about it,” said Leber. “I do wonder how it’s all going to play out, and I’m a little worried about how crazy it’s going to be. Thinking about it from a family perspective. Having a newborn at home [a 3-month old son] and how is that going to play out? Am I going to be gone traveling maybe team-to-team looking for a potential place to play?
“Is it going to be one of those things where you sign on the dotted line and you go to training camp the next day and be gone for another month? All those things my wife and I have talked about and at the end of the conversation we’re just like, ‘Well, we don’t know. We can’t sit here and waste time speculating.’ So I guess whatever happens, happens and we’ll roll with it when we get there.”
I’ve long thought that Leber was an underrated contributor to the Vikings defense and now it appears that he might be willing to give the team a hometown discount to bring him back. As Judd Zulgad points out, Leber is a veteran leader whose familiarity and talent potentially becomes even more valuable as the lockout continues to eat away at what would normally be the time of year in which new players would be introduced to the scheme.
It makes sense, but there is no denying that Leber saw a dramatic drop off in productivity in 2010 and one has to wonder if the 31 year old is on the decline. However, my personal assessment is that E.J. Henderson’s return to health and opposing offenses’ tendency to spread out the defense meant there was just less opportunity for Leber to get on the field, let alone make a play. I called this exact issue into question back in November.
I’m not sure the Vikings are interested in paying a premium for a nickel linebacker, especially with young guys like Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley looking for more playing time, but if the Vikings can get Leber to re-sign with a manageable contract then I am one hack blogger that wouldn’t hesitate to vote “yes.”