Vikings trade Gerald Hodges to 49ers for Nick Easton, draft pick

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will return from their bye week with a new starting middle linebacker.

The team traded Gerald Hodges, who started the first four games of the season, to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a sixth-round pick and center Nick Easton, general manager Rick Spielman said Tuesday.

The Vikings had largely been using Hodges in their base defense and taking him out of the game for rookie second-round pick Eric Kendricks in the nickel defense. The move, Spielman said, was made in part because the Vikings feel good enough about Kendricks' progress to give him a larger role.

"One of the areas of strength we have on this football team was that we have a lot of depth at [the linebacker] position," Spielman said. "We feel strongly about Audie Cole and what he can bring and how well he's been playing. But the development of Kendricks and [seventh-rounder] Edmond Robinson, and we still have [Brandon] Watts on our practice squad."

Center John Sullivan is on short-term injured reserve for the first half of the season after having back surgery, but Spielman said the decision to acquire Easton isn't because the Vikings are worried about Sullivan being out longer.

"This is a young center; we tried to sign him after the draft," Spielman said. "He played very well in the preseason. We monitored him when he was with the Ravens. ... It's just an opportunity to get another young player, to get in and take a look at him, and see what we have and what he can potentially develop into."

The Vikings were without a sixth-round pick in 2016 after trading theirs to San Diego for offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles in September; Spielman said he also liked the chance to get a sixth-round pick back in a trade. The general manager, who was conducting his annual bye-week press conference with reporters, had to excuse himself shortly after the beginning of the session to finalize the deal.

The last time Spielman had to pause a press conference, it was during the 2013 draft, when the Vikings sent four picks to the New England Patriots for the chance to draft Cordarrelle Patterson. They traded away their second- and third-round picks as part of that deal; their next pick after Patterson in the 2013 draft was Hodges.