After a disappointing, injury-marred season, former Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly was released by the Carolina Panthers on Friday. Now that he's back on the market, a reunion with the Vikings could make a lot of sense for both parties.
Weatherly parlayed a solid four-year run in Minnesota into a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Panthers last offseason. Having spent his whole career as a rotational and sub-package rusher behind players like Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, and Brian Robison, this was Weatherly's chance to go to a situation where he would have the opportunity to start and play an every-down role.
Unfortunately, things didn't work out that way for the former seventh-round pick out of Vanderbilt. He started the first nine games of the year in Carolina but wasn't particularly effective, recording just 12 pressures and being held without a sack. He had a couple solid games, but Weatherly's PFF grade was just 53.7 through those nine weeks. Then, to make matters worse, he injured a finger and needed season-ending surgery.
Given the cap savings of releasing Weatherly and the presence of young edge rushers Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos in Carolina, it wasn't surprising at all to see the Panthers cut him.
But now that he's available, should the Vikings be interested in bringing him back? I think they should. Weatherly knows the system, coaches, and players. And although 2020 proved that he's unlikely to ever be an effective starter at defensive end, he still has plenty of value in his old role. Weatherly racked up 56 pressures and six sacks between 2018 and 2019 despite starting just seven games. On third downs in 2019, the Vikings would bring in Weatherly and Ifeadi Odenigbo alongside Griffen and Hunter to have four players capable of getting to the quarterback.
Weatherly, who can line up on the inside or on the edge, would be a nice depth pickup for the Vikings. After losing him and Griffen last offseason and going without Hunter all year due to injury, Minnesota was down to Odenigbo and players like D.J. Wonnum, Jalyn Holmes, and Hercules Mata'afa at defensive end.
Getting Hunter back in 2021 will be big, but the Vikings should also be looking to add another starter and replenish their depth. That could mean signing someone in free agency or using a high draft pick on an EDGE for the first time under Rick Spielman. But bringing back Odenigbo (a restricted free agent) and/or Weatherly would be smart, especially since Wonnum was inconsistent as a rookie.
After a down season, Weatherly likely won't cost nearly as much as he did last season. And unless he wants to go somewhere else and try to prove himself again, he might be interested in coming back to Minnesota, potentially taking slightly less money to do so.
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