The Vikings were trailing 18-16 with 6½ minutes left Sunday when both of their defensive ends beat their tackles and were heading toward Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
“I decided to go with speed and power, collapse the pocket,” said left end Stephen Weatherly. “But by the time I looked up, Ifeadi [Odenigbo] was screaming around the other edge and got the ball out and picked it up. I guess it was just us trying to have a party at the quarterback.”
Playing backups almost exclusively against mostly Bears starters, the playoff-bound Vikings lost 21-19. But they won in terms of rest for next week and further confidence that the future of their defensive line is in good hands.
“Coach Dre [defensive line coach Andre Patterson] said he was expecting the same results today,” Odenigbo said. “He almost expects more from the backups to show all the other teams what we’re all about here. That we have the greatest depth in the NFL.”
The kind of depth that, in all likelihood, means 10-year veteran Everson Griffen just spent his last Vikings home game standing on the sideline wearing a baseball cap and watching the younger, cheaper guys who will make him expendable in 2020.
Griffen is due to make $12.9 million next season. If the Vikings release him, he’d count only $800,000 in dead money against the salary cap.
With eight sacks this season, Griffen also triggered a clause that allows him to void his contract after the season. So, either way, it certainly appears the 32-year-old will be moving on in part because the team’s money would be better spent on the 25-year-old Weatherly, whose contract is up at the end of this season.
“It would be awesome to sign another deal and stay here, especially since I did make this my home over the last four years,” Weatherly said. “But that decision is not in my hands, which is the way it works.”
Griffen is making $6.4 million this season. His salary ranks 10th on the team.
As for Weatherly and Odenigbo, well, they clock in at Nos. 33 and 41, respectively. Weatherly makes $720,000 while Odenigbo makes $570,000 this year and is scheduled to make $660,000 next year.
That’s bargain-basement compensation in today’s NFL. But Sunday they combined for 1 ½ sacks, 13 tackles, four QB hits and the forced fumble and recovery that Odenigbo beat Weatherly to.
Initially, the play was ruled a 23-yard touchdown return for Odenigbo. Had it stood up under review — he was ruled down by contact at the Chicago 23 — it would have been his second scoop and score in three weeks.
“I was going to fall on the ball,” Odenigbo said. “But after the Chargers game, no, I got a taste of a touchdown. I’m picking it up every time. Screw that. Scoop and score.”
In Los Angeles, it was Danielle Hunter who was Odenigbo’s lead blocker on the return. Sunday, it was Weatherly.
“I just keep passing out all my good blocks this year,” Weatherly said. “I’ve thrown blocks for EK [Eric Kendricks], Ifeadi. If I ever get my hands on a ball, everyone better be blocking for me.”
The defensive line played a key role in holding the Bears to one touchdown in five red-zone trips. Weatherly’s half sack came on third-and-goal at the 9.
“I thought the defensive line played well today for the most part,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Those guys did a nice job rushing today. [Odenigbo] continues to get better all the time. And it was nice to see Jalyn Holmes get in there, [Hercules] Mata’afa, some of the guys that don’t get to play much.”
When Griffen and Hunter are playing, Weatherly and Odenigbo spend more time as inside nickel pass rushers. It’s a role both ends embrace because they know they’ll get plenty of opportunities in what has been the team’s deepest defensive line rotation in years.
“They look for guys who are coachable and not selfish,” Weatherly said. “And one thing this program is really good about is training the next guy and the next guy and the next guy.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org