There is a former first-round pick who is still out there as a free agent and could still certainly help a team win, especially one just looking for a veteran presence for a playoff push.
Sheldon Richardson was drafted 13th overall in 2013 to the New York Jets where he spent the first four years of his career, including his most productive season, which was an eight-sack year when he played and started in all 16 games in 2014. But as his career unfolded, he was not able to repeat such a season. The Jets took Richardson’s rookie contract to the fifth and final year before trading him to the Seattle Seahawks. It was in Seattle where Richardson changed from a defensive end to a defensive tackle.
Richardson spent just one season in Seattle and signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings once he became a free agent. He started all 16 games for just the second time in his career with the Vikings, and the following offseason signed a three-year deal with the Cleveland Browns. But Richardson never made it to the third year of that deal, as the Browns released him just before the 2021 NFL Draft.
Richardson, now at age 30, has been a healthy player for most of his career. He has played in at least 15 games each season except for one (2011) where Richardson missed four games for suspension. He might not be the same interior disruptor he was in his best year, but given how well he played for Cleveland last season, he should have suitors once training camp rolls around.
Here are three teams that could use a player of Richardson’s talent and experience.
Kansas City Chiefs
It seems impossible, right? Never say impossible when it comes to the Kansas City Chiefs making their roster better.
Kansas City currently has just over $7 million in cap space, so Richardson’s signing, even at a discount, would bring the team close to the salary-cap floor with not much flexibility unless it can move some money around. But in terms of how it makes sense, well that’s obvious. Richardson was a key part of why Cleveland’s offensive front was as good as it was for its playoff run last year, and putting Richardson next to Chris Jones in Kansas City would make for quite the demand on any team’s interior offensive line.
If you thought Kansas City would be tight for money with a Richardson signing, the Tennessee Titans would really have to pull a rabbit out of a hat to make this happen; but again, it makes a lot of sense for them, if they can swing it. Right now their key interior presence is Jeffery Simmons, who is damn good on his own. But next to him it’s Daylon Mack, Bruce Hector, and Woodrow Hamilton. The Titans have Denico Autry to play as their odd-front end, and he does bring good experience himself; throwing Richardson into that mix, too, would make for quite the mixture of interior defensive talent Tennessee can work with. The Titans remain a fringe playoff team with all the talent they’ve lost this offseason, but Richardson could really help them make a push.
If Richardson is looking for a true contender, I’m not so sure he’d settle on the Dallas Cowboys. But if that part isn’t non-negotiable to him, the Cowboys make a lot of sense. Right now the Cowboys’ interior defensive line room is really young with Trysten Hill, Neville Gallimore, Carlos Watkins, and Osa Odighizuwa. Watkins is the veteran of that bunch at age 26. The Cowboys still have Demarcus Lawrence on that defensive line, but they’re leaning on a lot of youth around him. Richardson could help bridge that gap even more as a good veteran presence.
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