Note: This article originally appeared on our sister-site, PurplePTSD.com.
The Minnesota Vikings employ about eight EDGE rushers on the roster as of mid-May. Danielle Hunter, Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, Jalyn Holmes, Patrick Jones II, Janarius Robinson, Jordan Brailford, and Kenny Willekes are those men.
Heading into the 2020 season, head coach Mike Zimmer carried over six defensive ends from training camp, so this larger list of eight should be trimmed in early September. And if Bleacher Report is not mistaken, Stephen Weatherly might be one of the odd men out. BR‘s Alex Kay outlines 32 theories for surprise releases of each NFL team, and for Minnesota — it’s Weatherly:
“The Vikings cut Stephen Weatherly for poor play following the 2019 campaign and may rid themselves of the veteran defensive lineman before his second stint in Minnesota even gets underway. He was a decent rotational piece for the Vikings after being selected late in the 2016 draft and had his best campaign in 2018, when he started six of the 16 games he played in and notched 35 tackles, eight QB hits and a trio of sacks. He failed to generate as much pressure the following year and ended up with the Panthers on a two-year deal in 2020. Carolina only got nine games from Weatherly before he went down with injury and was released in February. He landed back with Minnesota last month, but the 27-year-old could struggle to crack the final roster. With the Vikings drafting third-rounder Patrick Jones II and fourth-rounder Janarius Robinson to compete at the same position, the franchise would be better served saving $2 million by releasing Weatherly.”
The reporting here is a bit curious as Weatherly was not technically “released” by the Vikings after the 2019 season. He simply wasn’t re-upped, opting for the Carolina Panthers instead via free agency — a place that Weatherly surmised he would start.
As for “poor play” in 2019, Weatherly was a true-blue depth defensive end, not a starter that floundered. That season was a successful one for the Vikings, culminating with a sneaky playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints in the wildcard round. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen were the undisputed starting EDGE rushers while Weatherly played 38% of all defensive snaps. But it is accurate that he only posted a 50.1 Pro Football Focus grade in 2019.
In Carolina, Weatherly had a rough tenure. He started nine games for the Panthers, tallying no sacks and a 53.7 PFF score. He eventually injured his finger, which required season-ending surgery. Weatherly was the first free-agent signing for the Vikings in 2021 — an offseason where general manager Rick Spielman signed only defensive players.
Now, Weatherly will get a crack to start once again — as he did with the Panthers. But he must oust the aforementioned Wonnum and rookies Jones and Robinson to actionize the forecast. And Bleacher Report does not see that happening.
The Vikings elected not to reengage with Ifeadi Odenigbo, an EDGE rusher that excelled at the end of the 2019 season in Minnesota. Odenigbo left this offseason to the New York Giants — along with tight end Kyle Rudolph — so Zimmer needs another starter in his defensive trenches opposite Danielle Hunter. During the pandemic season, the 27-year-old encountered a lot more attention via offensive lineman than any other time in his career due to Hunter’s absence.
Hunter will return in 2021 from a spooky neck injury last season that disabled him from seeing the field at all.
If faith is to be entrusted in Bleacher Report, it’s a safer bet that Wonnum, Jones, or Robinson will inhabit the RDE1 role — not the veteran Weatherly.