A pair of former Seahawks return Monday with the Vikings, still seemingly miffed at how Seattle let them get away.
As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll figured they might, Tom Johnson and Sheldon Richardson loom as key players Monday night when Seattle plays host to the Minnesota Vikings.
Carroll, though, didn’t really anticipate the two would team up for the Vikings against Seattle.
Instead, when Seattle traded for Richardson before the 2017 season, the Seahawks thought they were acquiring a player who would be a vital cog in their defense for years to come.
And when Seattle signed Johnson last spring, in part because Richardson got away via free agency, the Seahawks figured they’d brought in a player who would not only play a significant role on defense but also, as a 34-year-old with eight years in the NFL, add leadership in the locker room.
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Both players now are instead in Minnesota, and this week, they seemed somewhat miffed at how Seattle let them get away.
Johnson’s departure was particularly strange. After he played 39 snaps in the season opener at Denver, the Seahawks released him the following week due to a roster crunch. Specifically, the Seahawks wanted to add safety Shalom Luani to add depth in the secondary and on special teams after Delano Hill suffered a hamstring injury.
They figured Johnson, as a vested free agent, wouldn’t go through waivers and be subject to a claim, but instead would become an immediate free agent, able to say no if a team came calling. Seattle was worried that if it cut one of its younger players, that player might be claimed and be gone for good.
The Seahawks told Johnson they would re-sign him the following week and figured Johnson wouldn’t sign elsewhere.
But Johnson was indeed suddenly free to look around, and the Vikings came through with a quick offer that Johnson decided to take. He took it in part because he got to keep most of the $2.1 million deal he signed with Seattle. The Vikings signed him to a one-year contract worth $1 million, meaning Johnson will make at least $3 million this season. (The Seahawks, however, counter they planned to sign Johnson to a veteran minimum deal of $915,000, which he would have gotten on top of his initial contract, so he would have been double-dipping in either scenario with Seattle essentially giving him a raise for sitting out for one week).
Johnson told twincities.com this week that he remains irked about what happened in Seattle and said he’s “definitely going there to make a statement’’ Monday night.
“I didn’t agree with it, but it was a business decision,” Johnson said. “They didn’t want to put one of their younger guys (on the waiver wire), and D-line was the only position that didn’t have any injuries. It didn’t have anything to do with my talent and or my ability. Obviously, I’m the better player, but it was a strategic thing.”
Carroll on Thursday repeated that the Seahawks wanted and expected to keep Johnson, who is a regular in Minnesota’s defensive line rotation, averaging 30 percent of snaps a game and has 3.5 sacks.
“We hoped to, yeah,’’ Carroll said. “We had hoped to. We had liked him and we had hoped to, but it didn’t work out.”
Johnson was listed as a starter for the opener at right defensive tackle against Denver. Since his departure, Seattle has relied heavily on another former Viking, Shamar Stephen, who started the next 10 games. Last week, Stephen was out with a foot injury and Seattle went with rookie Poona Ford, who drew raves from Carroll for making what the team said was six tackles (he was listed with four on the official stats). The team expects Stephen back this week.
That’s the same spot that last year was manned primarily by Richardson, who was acquired a week before the 2017 season in a trade with the Jets that sent receiver Jermaine Kearse and a 2018 second-round choice to New York.
Richardson’s play in his one year in Seattle is open to all kinds of interpretation. He played and started in all but one game, but had career-lows in sacks (one) and quarterback hits (seven).
Richardson told twincities.com this week that he blamed that on being taken off the field on third downs for a few games.
“They took me off the field,” he said. “I stopped playing on third downs for about four or five weeks.”
That’s likely a reference to a midseason stretch when the Seahawks used Nazair Jones extensively in a rotation up front before he was injured and sat out the last five games.
Richardson said that was evidence to him that Seattle “just never really fully committed to me.’’
Richardson had just one year remaining on his contract when Seattle acquired him, one reason the Jets were willing to deal him, and both sides knew all along it could well be a one-year rental.
Richardson told twincities.com this week that Seattle’s offer to him was like $4 million or $5 million.
“The contract they offered me was terrible,’’ Richardson said. “It wasn’t what they told me when I left after the exit meetings. I don’t know who came up with the numbers. When my agent told me the offer, I told him, ‘They can keep that.’ They set my market low.”
Richardson ended up signing a one-year deal with the Vikings for up to $8 million.
Asked about Richardson this week, Carroll didn’t really deny that Seattle didn’t come close to that offer.
“We weren’t able to go to where he was,’’ Carroll said. “We would have liked to have him back. When we took him, we thought we would be able to do that but the market just kind of took him away from us.”
Richardson has been solid with the Vikings, making 3.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hits so far and has indeed played a little more than he did in Seattle, on the field for 70.66 percent of snaps this year compared to 59.56 last season, according to Pro Football Reference.
“It will be fun going against those guys,’’ Richardson told twincities.com. “I don’t have any enemies on the team — in the locker room.”
Whether he has enemies elsewhere, though, is something Richardson left unsaid.