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Vikings reportedly nearing deal to bring back defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals
Dec 15, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (98) against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings spent recent months keeping in touch with free agent defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Geno Atkins, with an eye on signing one to provide an interior pass rush on third down. It appears a deal will happen with the former.

Richardson, who spent 2018 with the Vikings, is reportedly close to signing a contract to return to the team after a two-year stay with Cleveland. The Browns jettisoned the 30-year-old Richardson in April to create salary-cap space.

Richardson will be entering his ninth NFL season and has started 118 of 121 games with the Jets, Seahawks, Vikings and Browns. He has 31 career sacks, including 4.5 in his season with the Vikings and 7.5 over the past two seasons in Cleveland. Richardson also had 10 quarterback hits last season. He had 16 during his season with the Vikings, playing alongside nose tackle Linval Joseph.

Richardson is likely to find himself used in a situational role this season, with newcomers Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson playing in the base defense. Pierce, a nose tackle, was signed by the Vikings as a free agent in March 2020 but opted out of last season because of concerns about COVID-19. Tomlinson, a 3-technique, was signed to a two-year, $21 million contract this past March after playing his first four seasons with the New York Giants.

Richardson, who is 6-foot-3, 294 pounds, also is solid against the run so he could push Tomlinson for a starting job. Richardson’s addition would be the latest move by Minnesota to improve a defensive line that struggled in 2020. The Vikings’ 23 sacks were 28th in the NFL as Pro Bowl left end Danielle Hunter missed the season after having neck surgery. The Vikings and Hunter reportedly agreed to a contract restructure on Monday and he’s expected to show up for the start of the team’s three-day minicamp on Tuesday.

The Vikings starting defensive tackles for much of last season were Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson. Both ae no longer with the team.

The Vikings’ interest in the 33-year-old Atkins made sense given he started his career playing for Mike Zimmer, who was the Bengals’ defensive coordinator and has been the Vikings coach since 2014. Atkins has been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times, but played in only eight games last season because of shoulder surgery.