Minnesota entered the 2021 offseason with seemingly little salary cap space. But the Vikings made some clever moves to not only get under the cap, but have enough money to make some moves in free agency.
At first, the team made splashes by getting Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson. After the NFL draft, it seemed as though Minnesota might be fairly locked in with its roster, especially if the team needed to rework Danielle Hunter’s deal.
Well, the Vikings reworked Hunter’s deal, but that actually opened up space to sign Sheldon Richardson. There will be a lot of speculation about how Minnesota lines up defensively with Richardson coming to Minnesota.
Here are four things to consider:
It’s a reunion
Sep 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (93) during a game between the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Richardson returns to Minnesota after a two-season stint with Cleveland. For the Browns, Richardson is coming off a season in which he had 4.5 sacks, three passes defended and 10 QB hits. He had a PFF grade of 71.1. He also had 4.5 sacks in his season with Minnesota, tallying 16 QB hits.
He adds something different
Nov 25, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) runs with the ball as Minnesota Vikings’ Sheldon Richardson (93) chases in the first quarter during at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers via USA TODAY NETWORK
If Richardson can manage the production he has had with the Browns and Vikings, the complexion of the Minnesota defensive line just changed. Michael Pierce is a conventional run-stopping nose tackle. Dalvin Tomlinson can provide pressure but is seen more as a run-stopper. Danielle Hunter can rush the passer assuming he’s the same player he’s always been, but outside of that, Minnesota didn’t have much of an established pass-rushing threat, especially from the interior. Then, Richardson signed.
The defensive line is almost complete
Jun 15, 2021; in Eagen, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) looks on during drills at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports
With Danielle Hunter on a reworked deal and Sheldon Richardson signing in free agency, the Vikings defensive line became a lot more solidified this week. Sure, there is still a question mark at the defensive end spot opposite Hunter, but other than that, Minnesota has an answer to a lot of problems opposing offenses offer. Richardson can be a penetrating three-technique lineman. Michael Pierce is a nose tackle. Dalvin Tomlinson could play at either spot. Hunter is one of the best pass rushers in the league. Minnesota can now be a force up front.
The team could theoretically go with a 3-4
Sep 8, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr (55) sacks Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports
As Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune first pointed out, Minnesota could possibly go with a different defensive front than it normally deploys. In that scenario, the Vikings could use Pierce at the nose, Richardson and Tomlinson as the 3-4 defensive ends and Hunter and Barr on the outside edge spots. Then, linebackers like Eric Kendricks and Chazz Surratt could be utilized as coverage linebackers. There is a question mark at one of the conventional defensive end spots if Minnesota goes with a 4-3. If the Vikings go with Stephen Weatherly or D.J. Wonnum as a starter, opposing offenses could hone in on Hunter playing opposite to them. Both Weatherly and Wonnum are risky bets; a 3-4 could solve that problem.