Vikings Bolster Defensive Line
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings found a new offensive coordinator this winter, and they made one of the biggest splashes of the NFL offseason this week by giving quarterback Kirk Cousins a fully guaranteed $84 million contract.
There was one more pressing need: a new defensive tackle to play next to two-time Pro Bowl pick Linval Joseph.
Sheldon Richardson checked the last of those big boxes.
Richardson, the 13th pick in the 2013 draft out of Missouri by the New York Jets who was traded last year to the Seattle Seahawks, signed a one-year contract on Friday after visiting the team's new training facility and deciding the Vikings gave him the best opportunity to chase a championship.
"They're trying to win. Period. Point blank," Richardson said at an introductory news conference, held in the same room roughly 24 hours after Cousins', though with considerably less fanfare and fewer reporters.
He's still filling an important role, given head coach Mike Zimmer's desire for a stronger threat at that spot to both rush the passer and stand up to the run.
"Those guys can affect the quarterback as much as any position, along with our defensive ends, so it obviously takes some double-teams off our guys so they can continue to pressure the quarterback," Zimmer said.
The deal includes an $8 million base salary and as much as $3 million available in incentives, NFL Media reported. A few hours after Richardson's contract was finalized, the Vikings released wide receiver Jarius Wright to make more room under the salary cap.
Richardson played up to his first-round status by winning The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Then he recorded a career-high eight sacks and was picked for the Pro Bowl in 2014. He had some trouble off the field, though, serving a four-game suspension in 2015 for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He also was suspended for the 2016 season opener for an arrest in his home state of Missouri for driving at high speeds and resisting arrest.
The Vikings, were satisfied with their extensive vetting of his background and character, general manager Rick Spielman said.
"Then after spending two days with him we felt very confident that him coming into this culture, this locker room, that he'll fit right in," Spielman said.
Richardson had only one sack last year for the Seahawks, his first season in a primarily 4-3 scheme after playing in a 3-4 system with the Jets. Zimmer's philosophy doesn't emphasize or maximize individual statistics, focusing more on overall disruption and pressure, so the sack dropoff was not a concern to the Vikings. They saw the high motor he displays and the havoc he can cause on the line during their video review of his performances with the Jets and Seahawks.
"You could see how powerful he is, but you could also see the athletic ability and the speed going from sideline to sideline," Spielman said. "I'm excited to see who's going to get to the ball next year with the athletes we have up front."
The lack of sacks was enough of a concern to Richardson that he apologized during his opening remarks to his agent, Ben Dogra, for making his job of selling him more difficult.
"I got back there a lot, disrupted as coach Zimmer said. Honestly, just not finishing for me, in my book, to my standards," Richardson said. "I'm very effective around the quarterback. I just don't have the advantage of the numbers that people want to see."
With Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter at defensive end backed up by Brian Robison and Joseph entrenched at the nose tackle spot, the insertion of Richardson at the under tackle, or 3-techinque, position should indeed improve a defense that led the NFL in several key categories last season.
Tom Johnson took over the position last year, but he became a free agent. Spielman said Richardson's arrival means Johnson won't return. Shamar Stephen, who has played both tackle spots, also became a free agent and will likely not be back. The position is open because of the knee injury to 2013 first-round draft pick Sharrif Floyd, whose promising career was likely ended by nerve damage. His contract expired this week.
The spot could be vacant again in a year, given the short-term deal that Richardson preferred, but the Vikings are clearly in win-now mode as evidenced by their commitment to Cousins. Richardson had lunch with his fellow new acquisitionon Thursday.
"Humble guy, laid back," Richardson said. "Cool, calm and collected like you want your quarterback."
The Vikings are banking on the opposite from quarterbacks they're facing this year, with Zimmer and defensive line coach Andre Patterson confident they'll be able to maximize Richardson's ability.
"If you put yourself in the right situation with the right team and the right coaches," Spielman said, "there's no reason why he shouldn't be in the Pro Bowl year in and year out."