Picked in the seventh round of the 2016 draft, Stephen Weatherly developed enough to play all the way through his rookie deal, hitting the open market last year after a pair of three-sack seasons as a rotational pass rusher with the Vikings.
The two-year, $12.5 million deal he landed from the Panthers gave him his first chance to be a starter and earn a significant payday. That achievement, Weatherly admitted, made him a bit lackadaisical.
He started nine games in Carolina, but didn't register a sack before hurting a finger on his right hand and missing the rest of the season. The Panthers released Weatherly to save cap space last month, and he quickly returned to Minnesota on a one-year, $2.5 million deal.
Speaking with reporters on a video conference Monday after the deal became official, Weatherly sounded thrilled to be back and eager to make the most of his chance.
"One of the things I definitely learned about myself is that I don't need to be so safe," he said. "I need to keep reaching and striving forward. I openly admit that my time in Carolina I was happy about the deal I signed and a little bit of complacency set in and that can't happen. No matter what I need to be striving and reaching for the next step and if I do slip or if I do fail, I failed because I was reaching for greatness not it was snatched away from me holding onto something so tight. That's definitely something I learned being out and coming back. It's definitely one more thing I'm bringing back. That fight, that grind. Never let complacency set in again, especially when it comes to something like this, like football."
Weatherly, ever the polymath, took reporters on a tour of his varied interests during his 15-minute news conference on Monday, including his continued investment in Bitcoin ("If you don't have too much money in it, it can be a lot of fun), his chess game (he joined a Thursday night virtual chess club in Charlotte), his viewing interests (he liked "The Queen's Gambit," a Netflix show about a chess prodigy), and his appearance on "Blown Away," a Netflix glass-blowing reality show competition that connected with Weatherly through his involvement with MPLS Glass in Northeast Minneapolis.
"I watched it like I was watching film," he said of his appearance on the show. "I rewound it a couple times, watched it with mute to see my mannerisms and stuff like that. I never really broke myself down, like not in football, but I did for this. It was pretty dope. The whole experience was amazing. I watched it, no like, probably like 30 times — the whole episode."
Weatherly's input in the early days of the Vikings' social justice committee inspired players like Eric Kendricks to become more vocal after the killing of George Floyd last May. Weatherly watched the reaction to Floyd's death in Minneapolis from afar; now that he's back with the Vikings, he said he's looking forward to seeing if he can rejoin the social justice committee.
The events of 2020, he said, underscored the importance of athletes connecting with the communities where they play and learning about the issues taking place there.
"I feel like there's more importance placed on our ability as athletes in a region to connect with the people in our community: the same people that invest their time and their money in us," he said. "I feel like it's only right that we fight for their behalf on a bigger platform, bring awareness to issues that may be overlooked nationally, especially after what happened here with George Floyd. If anything, you've got to keep building on that and using your platform to bring awareness to situations that impact your community as an athlete."