Defensive end Stephen Weatherly was an NFL free agent for less than two weeks when co-Vikings defensive coordinator Andre Patterson came calling. Patterson wanted to know where Weatherly's head was at, and if he wanted to return to Minnesota.
"I said, 'Absolutely,'" Weatherly said Thursday after agreeing to a one-year, $2.5 million deal worth up to $3 million with incentives.
That's how the Vikings quickly reunited with Weatherly, who was cut by the Panthers last month. Returning to a defensive system under Patterson, who oversaw Weatherly's development from a seventh-round pick to a solid NFL reserve from 2016-2019, was an immediate draw.
"Playing with Dre and knowing and understanding the level of expectations, it's just really nice to know those things going into a situation with a coaching staff." Weatherly said. "I was eager to jump at that chance again."
Weatherly, who turns 27 this month, said he's healthy again and training in Arizona, where he's working to rebound from a disappointing Panthers season that lasted nine games and ended with no sacks and season-ending finger surgery.
"It took me a while to really learn my place in the defense," he said. "I'd only known Minnesota, so I'd always known what was always expected of me for each situation. It took me a while to find my bearings, then when I did, I got injured a couple weeks later."
Only cornerback Mackensie Alexander has more NFL starts from the Vikings' 2016 draft class than Weatherly, a 6-foot-5-inch, lanky pass rusher who will bring versatility and some run defense to the line. He joins Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata'afa, among others, on a depth chart under reconstruction.
Weatherly said his only expectations are to return to roles in which he can thrive while trying to improve a Vikings pass rush that had a franchise-low 23 sacks last season.During his two seasons as a key role player for Minnesota in 2018 and 2019, Weatherly had two forced fumbles, six sacks and 11 tackles for losses.
"Try to get used best way possible and build up the defense," Weatherly said, "get it back to that standard we were used to playing at when I was there."
He also wants to take the next step in the community with the newly launched Stephen Weatherly Foundation. He was among the Vikings' most active volunteers in the Twin Cities, where he has hosted youth football camps with the Eagan YMCA and reading programs with local schools.
He's also a known jack-of-all-trades, which helped land Weatherly a recent appearance on a popular Netflix show, thanks to a connection made in the Twin Cities.
Weatherly became a guest judge on "Blown Away," a reality competition for expert glassblowers, just a year after taking up glassblowing during the 2019 offseason. He was featured on an episode in the latest season that aired in January.
That appearance – filmed in Toronto in January 2020 – came together in Minnesota, where Weatherly was introduced to a finalist from the show's previous season at a local glass shop during the Vikings' 2019 season.
"Super coincidental," Weatherly said. "It happened to be when [the Vikings] were not out of town, so it's a home game. I slide over there for an hour, we talk, he has his connections, and now I'm on Netflix."