By Jason Wisniewski
The Minnesota Vikings will have a decision to make on pending Free Agent DT Sheldon Richardson who was the starter in 2018 at the UT spot aka “3 technique”. Richardson signed with the Vikings on a 1 yr $8 million dollar deal last off season and is now looking to cash in on a long term contract. I will discuss here why I think that would be the WRONG move for the Vikings.
Tom Johnson & Shemar Stephen were better vs the run in 2017 than Richardson was in 2018. The Vikings fell from #3 overall vs the run in 2017 to #15 overall vs the run with Richardson starting in 2018.
Tom Johnson in a backup role this past season had the same number sacks than Sheldon Richardson did as the starter and Johnson played in 3 less games than Richardson. Each player finished the season with 4.5 sacks for the 2018 season.
Although Richardson is an above average pass rushing DT I would rather save the money & pay a guy like Domata Peko who played for Mike Zimmer in Cincy or heck even bring Stephen back who is UFA again this off season to play on early downs and short yardage & stuff the run and then draft a more pass rushing DT either in Rd 1 or Rd 2. If its Rd 1 Christian Wilkins, if its Rd 2 Gerald Willis. Peko or Stephen would command $3 million tops since they are just run stuffers. Peko finished with a 74.3 PFF Grade last season, while Richardson finished at 72.2, mainly due to his 16 QB pressures.
While Richardson is a quality pass rushing DT, a Peko/High Draft Pick or Stephen/High Draft pick combo I think would be more effective overall than Richardson and spending all that money on a player that is obviously mediocre against the run. You could even re-sign Tom Johnson to be the pass rushing DT if you don’t want to use the draft pick on a rookie and still likely have similar results given that Tom Johnson is an effective pass rushing specialist who if platooning with a run stuffing DT can be effective as we saw with the 2017 Vikings Stephen/Johnson combo which finished #3 overall vs the run. Richardson is going to ask for $10 million per year. Do you really want to pay $10 million for one guy that isn’t good against the run? If you can’t stop the run you can’t get teams into 3rd and long. How many times down the stretch did we see teams keep themselves in 3rd and very short against the Vikings and easily pick up the first downs? It could explain why Richardson had only 2 QB pressures in the final 5 games of 2018. The Vikings weren’t forcing people into 3rd and long because they couldn’t stop the run consistently. Is all of that on Richardson? Probably not but much of it is because he largely played with the same starting linebackers that Johnson & Stephen played with in 2017 for the Vikings save for 5 games when one of Kendricks or Barr were out. I can only remember 2 games where Eric Wilson didn’t play that well and those were the final 2 games when played out of position at MLB. When Wilson filled in for Barr at OLB the Vikings did not miss a beat so Richardson can only point to 2 games all year where the LB play was not what it was compared to 2017.
That to me is not enough to warrant consideration for a multi year contract in the $10 million dollar per year range.
Special Thanks to Pro Football Focus for their research & Pro Football Reference for their statistics.