The Vikings defense could look a little different next season, with coach Mike Zimmer hinting newly reacquired defensive tackle Shamar Stephen is expected to take over Sheldon Richardson’s starting job.
The 6-5, 309-pound Stephen, a 2014 seventh-round pick by the Vikings, re-signed with the team on a three-year deal this week after spending last season in Seattle. Stephen’s size, according to Zimmer, will allow Vikings coaches to toy with their scheme as they bank on his run-stopping ability.
“Being able to have a guy with Shamar’s versatility, along with Linval [Joseph] inside,” Zimmer said, “I think it’s going to help us change some of the packages that we run.”
The Vikings coaching staff, specifically defensive line coach Andre Patterson, led to what Stephen called a “quick decision” in free agency. Stephen, 28, agreed to terms with the Vikings only hours into the start of Monday’s negotiating window because of how well players are developed in Minnesota.
“Danielle [Hunter], he’s become a great player,” Stephen said. “Before that he was, what, a [third]-round draft pick? Now he’s an elite pass rusher. [Patterson] has guys producing every year.”
The Vikings are in contact with free-agent guard Nick Easton’s agent about a possible return to Minnesota, according to General Manager Rick Spielman. Easton, 26, still fits the type of linemen they’re looking for under new Vikings assistant head coach/offensive adviser Gary Kubiak’s influence, Spielman said.
“He’s a good athlete,” Spielman said. “He’s tenacious as a football player, but he’s coming off a pretty significant injury.”
Easton, coming off neck surgery last August, was reportedly in New Orleans on Thursday for a free-agent visit with the Saints. He started 17 games at left guard and center for the Vikings in 2016-17.
Harris leads bonuses
Safety Anthony Harris topped Vikings players by earning a $389,987 bonus through the NFL’s two performance-based pay pools rewarding veterans and young players for outplaying their salaries. Harris finished fourth in the Vikings secondary with 623 snaps while earning a $705,000 salary.
Center Pat Elflein ($323,104), linebacker Eric Wilson ($320,624), defensive end Stephen Weatherly ($317,828), cornerback Holton Hill ($293,256) and offensive tackle Rashod Hill ($283,850) were also among Vikings to receive the largest bonuses.
Remmers visits Giants
Former Vikings guard Mike Remmers took his first free-agency visit to the New York Giants, according to his agency. Remmers, who was cut by the Vikings this week, has previously played for Giants coach Pat Shurmur and General Manager Dave Gettleman.
Panthers cut Kalil
The Panthers released former Vikings first-round pick Matt Kalil, only two years after signing him to a five-year, $55.5 million contract with $25 million guaranteed. He didn’t play last season because of injuries.