The Minnesota Vikings defensive line has been rebuilt.
The most notable reinforcements: the returns of Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter, arrivals of Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson on the interior and veteran re-signings of Sheldon Richardson and Everson Griffen.
Talent has become abound on the defensive front, which went from the defense’s weakness last season to undoubtedly its biggest strength.
This offseason’s biggest question has been the battle at right defensive end between 2020 third-round pick D.J. Wonnum and veteran Stephen Weatherly. Wonnum has been the consensus winner out of training camp.
His emergence has left Star Tribune beat reporter Ben Goessling skeptical of Weatherly’s future with the team, given his cap hit currently.
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‘A Known Commodity’
Following the full details of Griffen’s team-friendly contract being unveiled last week, a fan proposed the idea of trading Weatherly, who has fallen to the No. 4 pass-rusher on the depth chart following Griffen’s arrival.
“Weatherly’s cap number makes me wonder what’s going to happen with him in the next week or so,” Goessling replied via Twitter on Aug. 26. “He’s also a known commodity, which could be pretty valuable given their situation (at defensive end), but the cap savings could also be something they look at.”
Weatherly, signed to a one-year, $2.5 million contract in March, joined the Vikings while the defensive line was still in disarray. Weatherly is a viable pass-rusher, but struggled away from Minnesota, failing to register a sack in nine starts with the Carolina Panthers last season. He was cut halfway through a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Panthers after his struggles in 2020.
Griffen, on the other hand, tallied six sacks in 14 games despite learning two different defenses between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions. He signed a veteran minimum $1.075 million contract for the 2021 season with zero guarantees.
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If the Vikings traded Weatherly, they could gain draft capital and create cap space for this season.
Depending on the desperation of another team for a starting defensive end, Weatherly could fetch a mid-round pick. He could also be cut and the Vikings could save $2 million in cap space.
The Vikings could add talent elsewhere with the cap savings, considering there are concerns at linebacker and on the offensive line this season. That would depend on the available talent left in free agency following Tuesday’s 53-man roster deadline.
However, depth is one of the most valuable commodities in the NFL, and Weatherly’s cap number isn’t bleeding the Vikings.
A third scenario is the Vikings come knocking for Weatherly to take a pay cut as he hasn’t lived up to the billing as the team’s starting defensive end opposite of Hunter.
Upon his arrival, Weatherly expressed his gratitude to be back in Minnesota and could be willing to take a slight pay cut to stay with the team.
“I really didn’t know how important it was to have that bond with your (defensive line) coach (Andre Patterson) and just guys you play next to,” Weatherly told Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson in March. “I kind of took that for granted… I think familiarity is a nice aspect of coming back to Minnesota,” Weatherly said. “I already know the standards, the expectations. So I can help out in any way I’m needed.”