The Vikings already boasted one of the best defensive lines in football and they may have just gotten a little stronger. Former Seahawks and Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has officially signed a one-year deal with Minnesota.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Vikings rolled out the red carpet to coax Richardson to Minnesota. According to Schefter, they picked Richardson up in a private plane and invited him to lunch with new quarterback Kirk Cousins before either had officially signed.
With former teammate Muhammad Wilkerson signing earlier with the rival Packers, Richardson became the hottest defensive tackle on the market. A 2013 first round pick, Richardson made an immediate impression on the league, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Jets. He followed it up with a Pro Bowl 2014 in which he recorded eight sacks and a good 2015 season that was shortened by suspension.
It was a couple of off-field concerns that has steadily lowered Richardson’s stock over the last few years. He faced a marijuana-related suspension and an arrest within two weeks of each other in summer of 2015. Since that time, he has stayed out of trouble. But his performance on the field has yet to return to the heights it was in his first three seasons. Richardson posted 16.5 sacks over those seasons but just 2.5 the last two.
Still, Richardson is a highly thought-of player due to his age and the level of play he has already shown. At 27, there is still plenty of time for Richardson to re-ignite his career and return to a Pro Bowl level. There may not be a better situation than Minnesota to do it, either. He will face a lot of single-teams working next to Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen. The opportunities to get to the quarterback will be there early and often.
And that is where Richardson thrives. He has consistently been an elite interior pass rushers since entering the league in 2013. Even in a sub-par 2017, Richardson registered one of the better pass rush grades from Pro Football Focus among interior linemen. He chalked his recent low sack totals up to not finishing plays, as opposed to his inability to get pressure.
Richardson also brings availability. He has rarely missed time due to injury, playing at least 15 games in four of his five seasons. Aside from his two suspensions, Richardson has been able to stay on the field.
The one-year deal provides the Vikings with flexibility. If Richardson returns to form in 2018, they could look to extend him. If not, they will have the opportunity to invest money into re-signing their other defensive players. Several starters will be up for new contracts in 2019, so Richardson’s favorable deal is a win-win for the Vikings.
For now, at least on paper, the Vikings look to again be the NFC’s most stout defense heading into 2018. They finished just one game shy of the Super Bowl in 2017, and the lack of consistent pass rush played a part in their Championship Game loss to the Eagles. Richardson has the potential to push the Vikings’ defensive line to that next level they failed to reach down the stretch.