Tuesday's NFL: Vikings further bolster front by signing DT Sheldon Richardson

Associated Press

Minneapolis — The Minnesota Vikings have stretched their offseason renovation of the defense into the summer, making one more big splash by bringing back defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

Richardson signed a one-year, $3.6 million contract Tuesday with the team he played for in 2018, giving the Vikings a proven interior pass rusher at a position that became a particular vulnerability in 2020 amid an uncharacteristic collapse by a once-dominant unit.

The Vikings signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson before their minicamp began Tuesday, bringing back a proven interior pass rusher in the latest part of their offseason makeover.

“It was a pretty big-time get for us. He’s an absolute playmaker, and I’m happy he’s back. He’s a great guy in the locker room, always got a smile on his face, and he’s always ready to work,” said safety Harrison Smith, now the longest-tenured player on the team.

The salary cap space for Richardson was created by a reworked deal for defensive end Danielle Hunter, who also arrived in time for minicamp after skipping the previous sessions this year and missing last season due to a neck injury. The sight of Richardson and Hunter together on the field on an idyllic sunny morning gave the Vikings an additional boost of optimism during a time when it’s already running high across the league.

“Every year at this time I’m excited, but I can be truly be confident in saying this is the most excited I’ve been in a long time,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said.

Richardson played the last two seasons for the Cleveland Browns, with 4½ sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 2020. He was released for salary cap savings, a surprise move made two weeks before the draft.

The 30-year-old Richardson joins newcomers Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson in the middle of the line, with the Vikings determined to boost their defense after a lackluster season that prompted coach Mike Zimmer to call the group the “worst he’s ever had” in his career.

Pierce was signed last year but opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 health concerns. Tomlinson was one of Minnesota’s major additions in free agency three months ago. Both of them were acquired as lineup fixtures, meaning Richardson might not be an every-down player. He does have experience at defensive end and outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, during the first half of his career with the New York Jets. He said he weighs 286 pounds now, nearly 45 pounds lighter than he did playing outside.

“I get in where I fit in, simple as that,” said Richardson, who was also weighing a new, lesser offer from the Browns. He was drawn to a reunion with well-regarded defensive line coach Andre Patterson and the familiarity of the system under head coach Mike Zimmer.

His lone previous season with the Vikings was productive, with 4½ sacks and 16 quarterback hits. They let him leave as a free agent in a salary cap crunch, choosing to re-sign linebacker Anthony Barr. The 13th overall pick in 2013 out of Missouri by the New York Jets, Richardson was the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year award winner. When he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2017, Richardson moved inside to the “3 technique” spot where his pass rushing ability became an even greater asset.

He has played in every game for three straight seasons and has missed only two games to injury in his eight-year NFL career.

Richardson wore No. 9 as he went through drills with the team, at least temporarily taking the number of rookie punter Zach Von Rosenberg, who was waived to make room on the roster.

“I’m not looking for popularity. I’m looking to be productive and making sure the guys who play on the field, who play with me and against me, respect me. That’s it,” Richardson said.

The Vikings also re-signed defensive end Stephen Weatherly earlier this offseason, and the secondary got just as major of a revamp as the defensive line. Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander and safety Xavier Woods were all signed as free agents. Considering Barr was lost for the season to a pectoral injury in the second game, the Vikings are on track to return only two starters from the lineup they used for the majority of 2020 — Smith and linebacker Eric Kendricks.

“The secondary is always just about as good as the pass rush. You can have great players back there that are going to make plays from time to time just on their own, but throughout the length of the year, you’ve got to have both work together. You’re not going to always cover perfectly and you’re not going to always rush the passer perfectly, so if you can complement one another well, it normally works out in your favor,” Smith said.

Extra points

All-Pro cornerback and reigning NFL interception leader Xavien Howard wants a new contract from the Miami Dolphins, and there is no guarantee he will attend the three-day mandatory minicamp.

The Dolphins have had talks internally about Howard’s contract, coach Brian Flores said. But even Flores sounded unsure when — or if — Howard would be arriving for the camp that serves as the team’s final official work before training camp next month.

Howard, 27, is due to make about $12 million in base salary this season, the second year of a five-year, $75 million extension that could run through 2024. However, he's not the highest-paid corner on the Dolphins. Byron Jones, who got an $82 million, five-year contract last year, holds that distinction.

… New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick says he doesn’t expect cornerback Stephon Gilmore to participate in any of the team’s remaining mandatory minicamp workouts this week.

It’s an indication that the former defensive player of the year could possibly be a holdout as the team prepares to open training camp next month. Belichick declined to say whether Gilmore’s absence was excused.

Gilmore also skipped the team’s 10 recent voluntary workouts over the past two months. He is entering the final season of the five-year, $65 million deal signed in 2017. He is set to make a base salary of $7 million in 2021 and is in line to receive an additional $500,000 roster bonus.

… Former NFL player and Wisconsin football star Thomas Allen Burke is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl.

Burke, 44, is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct in St. Louis County, Minnesota. According to a criminal complaint, the child told her mother in February that Burke had assaulted her on numerous occasions.

Burke waived extradition to Minnesota following his arrest Friday. He was held in the St. Louis County Jail on $100,000 bail. He posted bail and was released Monday, according to jail staff. A criminal complaint said Burke denied the accusation.

… The Cowboys are headed back to California for training camp after the pandemic kept them home last year.

The club said its first practice will be in Oxnard on July 22, and fans will be allowed. The Cowboys had gone to Oxnard every year since 2012 before COVID-19 prompted the NFL to order all teams to stay home for camp in 2020.