Sheldon Richardson’s NFL career began smoothly with the New York Jets, until off-the-field trouble and locker-room conflict precipitated his eventual departure.
Guided by some important gains in maturity, Richardson has found a niche two stops later in Minnesota. This weekend, when the Vikings visit the Jets, he’ll have his first opportunity to vent any bad feelings with a winning performance against his old team for trading him.
As outspoken as Richardson has been at times, this was not a subject he was willing to touch when reporters asked him about his return to MetLife Stadium to face the Jets on Sunday afternoon.
”Another game. I never put myself above the team,” Richardson said. ”Whatever personal vendetta I have is between me.”
As for the deal that sent him to Seattle for the final year of his rookie contract, right before the 2017 regular season?
”It’s a business,” said Richardson, who played one season for the Seahawks, became a free agent and signed a one-year deal with the Vikings .
Richardson played up to his first-round draft pick status by winning The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2013. Then he had a career-high eight sacks and was picked for the Pro Bowl in 2014, the last season under coach Rex Ryan before Todd Bowles took over.
Richardson served a four-game suspension in 2015, though, for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He also was suspended for the 2016 season opener for an arrest in his home state of Missouri for driving at high speeds and resisting arrest.
Then there was his conflict with wide receiver Brandon Marshall and the public criticisms he expressed that contributed to some bad team chemistry.
”I did some things for me to get out of there for them to trade me,” Richardson said, ”and other than that I put it on myself, nobody else.”
Richardson continued his candid reflection before practice on Wednesday, acknowledging the character development he has undergone.
”It was kind of self-inflicted wounds,” he said. ”It’s just now me overcoming my personal battles in life. They got me out of there, and that changed everything around there. That’s pretty much it. I pretty much grew from everywhere. Every point, every phase of my life, I grew from it.”
Richardson had only one sack last year for the Seahawks, his first season in a primarily 4-3 scheme after playing in a 3-4 system with the Jets that saw him playing some at outside linebacker. With the Vikings, Richardson has settled in nicely at the three-technique position next to Linval Joseph.
He has only one sack, but less-tangible contributions in pass pressure and run disruption are more important to making coach Mike Zimmer’s system work. Richardson is tied for eighth in the NFL with 10 quarterback hits, and there’s no coincidence that defensive end Danielle Hunter is thriving off his presence inside taking on frequent double-teams.
”I’ve been really impressed with Sheldon. Not just his play, but the way he’s come in here and tried to learn the techniques we’re trying to teach him,” Zimmer said. ”His professionalism, how he handles himself in the meetings, he’s been really good with everything.”
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