On Friday, the Minnesota Vikings made it clear they won’t be remaining status quo on defense despite ranking No. 1 in yards and points last season.
The Vikings signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to a one-year, $8 million deal with an additional $3 million in incentives.
The addition gives Mike Zimmer an incredible amount of talent with Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Richardson and Danielle Hunter as his starting group.
Vikings’ D-line Pro Football Focus grades
In 2017, Zimmer played his starters on nearly ever play. Everson Griffen played 79 percent of total snaps, Danielle Hunter 77 percent, Tom Johnson 67 percent and Linval Joseph 66 percent.
We could see those snap counts go down in 2018.
“I think the biggest thing you’re seeing in the NFL now is the defensive line rotation to keep these guys fresh throughout the season,” GM Rick Spielman said. “I give Philadelphia a lot of credit, they used an eight-man rotation last year and you could see the results of that. If we can keep building the depth on the defensive line that will pay dividends down the road.”
Philadelphia had two quality defensive ends in Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, but still signed veteran Chris Long and drafted Derek Barnett in the first round. Defensive coordinator split up his pass rushers based on the situation. Each played 65 (Graham) and 41 (Barnett) percent of total snaps. On the interior, superstar Fletcher Cox routinely played 80 percent throughout the year, but DTs Beau Allen and Timmy Jernigan
In 2014, Richardson was an every-down DT, lining up for 87 percent of total plays. Speaking to Spielman’s point about the trend around the NFL, he only played 63 percent of snaps in Seattle last season.
How will the Vikings put more focus on a rotation? One way could be by giving more responsibility to young players. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, who was selected in the fourth round, noticeably made an impact during the preseason, but rarely saw the field, playing a total of 41 snaps. Undrafted free agent Tashawn Bower won a job in training camp and then received 10 plays and picked up one sack. Stephen Weatherly was on the field for 91 plays.
There are also a number of situational pass rushers still on the market. The Eagles cut Curry for cap-related reasons, but he will likely seek a starting job. Former New York Jet Kony Ealy and Pernell McPhee have been playing linebacker in 3-4 schemes, but could fill a pure edge rushing role. The Panthers cut veteran Charles Johnson earlier this offseason.
Spielman confirmed the team won’t be bringing back Tom Johnson. He did not rule out run stuffer Shamar Stephen.