Stephen Weatherly is back with the Minnesota Vikings.
The defensive end, who played for Minnesota from 2016-19 before spending last season with Carolina, said Thursday morning in a phone interview that he will sign a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Vikings. He said he will receive a $500,000 signing bonus, and that the deal could be worth as much as $3 million with incentives related to sacks.
“We agreed to terms (Wednesday),” said Weatherly, 26, who was released Feb. 19 by the Panthers and said he first learned of the Vikings’ interest last week. “I’m beyond excited. I’m ecstatic. I’m on cloud nine.”
A seventh-round draft pick in 2016, Weatherly played sparingly with the Vikings in his first two seasons before becoming a top reserve and part-time starter in 2018 and 2019. He had three sacks in each of those two seasons.
Weatherly signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract with the Panthers last year as a free agent, but struggled and had no sacks in the nine games he played, all starts. He did not play in the final seven games after having surgery on his finger.
“Last year wasn’t as good as I had hoped, but I’m healthy now and the finger is all healed up,” he said.
Weatherly believes he can turn things around going back to his original NFL team.
“I really didn’t know how important it was to have that bond with your (defensive line) coach (Andre Patterson) and just guys you play next to,” he said. “I kind of took that for granted. To be back in Minnesota, it means a lot, with Coach Dre especially.”
Weatherly is expected to compete for the starting job at right defensive end. Last year’s starter, Ifeadi Odenigbo, will be a restricted free agent. The Vikings also have Jalyn Holmes, who started nine games at left defensive end when Danielle Hunter missed the entire season due to a neck injury, and D.J. Wonnum, who was solid as a rookie in 2020.
Weatherly thinks he can help a Vikings defense that struggled last season, and had problems rushing the passer. The Vikings finished with just 23 sacks, and they ranked 29th in the NFL in scoring defense and 27th in total defense.
“I think familiarity is a nice aspect of coming back to Minnesota,” Weatherly said. “I already know the standards, the expectations. So I can help out in any way I’m needed.”
Weatherly said his incentives are related to his number of sacks in 2021, and that he could start earning extra money at three sacks and earn more in increments if the total increases. Any incentives he reaches would be considered unlikely bonuses, and would not go on the salary cap until 2022.
The Vikings currently are about $5 million over the cap but don’t have to be at the cap number until the first day of the new league year, which is March 17. Weatherly, who is training in Arizona, said he expected to receive the contract and sign soon.
Weatherly also is excited about working with the Stephen Weatherly Foundation in Minnesota, a charity he founded last year that he said benefits both youths and adults. His website describes the foundation as one that “provides kids the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone, get active, and grow into who they are through engaging resources and community empowerment.”