Veteran pass rusher Stephen Weatherly announced on Instagram Thursday morning that he's returning to the Vikings in 2021. The 2016 seventh-round pick spent his first four seasons in Minnesota before signing a two-year free agent deal with the Panthers last offseason. After a disappointing, injury-marred season, Weatherly was released by Carolina last month.
"Back to the Twin City for round 2," Weatherly wrote. "#Rushmen4Life." It's a one-year, $2.5 million deal, according to Chris Tomasson. Weatherly got a $500,000 signing bonus and could make an additional $500,000 in sack-based incentives.
This is a solid addition for Minnesota. Weatherly, who turns 27 this month, knows the defensive system, coaches, and players very closely. He shouldn't miss a beat in coming back and adding some important veteran depth to the Vikings' pass rush. The Vikings had one of the worst pass rushes in the league last season, but getting Danielle Hunter and Weatherly improves the outlook a lot, even before any other moves are made.
Weatherly developed into a nice rotational player during his first stint in Minnesota. The Vanderbilt product played mainly on special teams during his first two seasons, but broke out in 2018. He played over 500 defensive snaps that year, starting six games while Everson Griffen dealt with mental health issues. Weatherly recorded 27 pressures, three sacks, 23 run stops, and a 66.8 PFF grade.
Returning to a full-time rotational role in 2019, Weatherly recorded a career-high 29 pressures despite playing 102 fewer snaps than the previous season. He added another three sacks and was a weapon for Mike Zimmer on passing downs.
Weatherly parlayed those two strong seasons in Minnesota into a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Panthers in free agency. This was his shot to prove he could be a starting DE in the NFL. However, it didn't work out that way. He got off to a slow start to the year and then suffered a season-ending finger injury. With the Panthers possessing young edge rushers Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos, they cut Weatherly to free up some cap space.
It's important to note that the Vikings almost certainly aren't signing Weatherly to be a starter. He'll likely return to his role as a valuable depth player who mainly sees the field on passing downs. Weatherly's length and versatility — he can rush from the edge or the interior — make him an asset in those situations.
Bringing back Weatherly on a fairly cheap one-year deal is a good move for the Vikings, but they need to continue to address their woeful pass rush this offseason by pursuing edge rushers and a three-technique defensive tackle in free agency or the draft. Bringing back restricted free agent Ifeadi Odenigbo would be smart, too.
As the Vikings found out last year, having depth on the defensive line is crucial. Weatherly can help provide that.
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