The Vikings are reportedly nearing a deal to bring veteran defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson back to Minnesota, where he played in 2018. The 30-year-old spent the past two seasons with the Browns but was released in April. KFAN's Jack Day was the first to report the potential reunion.
Update: this move is now official.
What a day for the Vikings' defensive line. First they figured out the Danielle Hunter situation by moving some of his money up and pushing a long-term decision to next spring. That move happened to create $3.73 million in cap space for 2021 because some of Hunter's base salary was converted to signing bonus money, so then they went out and appear set to land Richardson.
This is a major addition to a defense that just continues to get more loaded with veteran talent. Richardson, assuming he signs, will join Dalvin Tomlinson, Michael Pierce, Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, Xavier Woods, Mackensie Alexander, Stephen Weatherly, and Nick Vigil as new members of this Vikings defense. Seven of those eight were signed this year, and Pierce will make his debut in 2021 after signing last year but opting out of the COVID-affected season.
Richardson fills a big hole for the Vikings as a true interior pass rusher at the three-technique position. Pierce and Tomlinson will hold down the middle on most early downs, with Richardson rotating in on passing downs. That's an incredibly talented trio of defensive tackles. The Vikings could theoretically even use some hybrid fronts with Richardson at the other DE spot next to Tomlinson, Pierce, and Hunter. A 3-4 front with Richardson, Pierce, and Tomlinson up front and Hunter and Anthony Barr as OLBs would be very intriguing as well.
A first-round pick out of Missouri back in 2013, Richardson has had an excellent career. He spent his first four years with the Jets, including a dominant eight-sack season in 2014. After one year in Seattle, he signed with the Vikings in 2018 and put up 47 pressures and 4.5 sacks. Richardson hasn't recorded fewer than 36 pressures in a season since his rookie year, and has never had a PFF grade below 69. Simply put, he's a very good football player.
What's so impactful about this move is that the Vikings really lack proven pass rushers outside of Hunter. Richardson is exactly that, and he represents a huge upgrade on passing downs from young players like Armon Watts, James Lynch, and Jaylen Tywman. Richardson's 43 pressures and 4.5 sacks last season would've led the Vikings in both categories if you exclude Yannick Ngakoue, who was traded halfway through the year. It'll be very interesting to see how Zimmer and Andre Patterson divvy out snaps on the defensive line, but there will be plenty of playing time to be found for someone as talented and experienced as Richardson.
All of a sudden, this Vikings defense is not only loaded with top-end talent, but the depth is impressive as well. Richardson and Breeland, who was signed earlier this month, may not even technically be starters, but they give Minnesota a ton of flexibility and high-quality depth. Zimmer will be able to rotate guys in and out on the defensive line and in the secondary so they stay fresh and can play at a high level all game long.
It's nitpicking, but the only conceivable hole left on this defense is at the DE spot opposite Hunter. Someone may emerge from a competition between Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, and rookies Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson, but that's the only spot that doesn't appear to have a very solid starter in place. Again, maybe the Vikings get creative with their fronts and find a way to get Richardson out there on early downs.
With the Vikings' roster being at 90 players, someone will need to be waived when the Richardson move is finalized.
Mandatory minicamp starts Tuesday at TCO Performance Center.
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