In the Vikings' 60-year history, four players have worn the No. 9 in a regular-season game: kicker Scott Sisson and quarterbacks Tommy Kramer, Jim McMahon and Brooks Bollinger.
On Tuesday, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson tried it on, thanks to both the NFL's relaxed jersey number policies and the fact he was on the free agent market until long after the new rule passed in late April.
"I really don't mind numbers, but I wasn't wearing 67," he said Tuesday. "That's what they first gave me when I came out. I think I've got No. 9 just for minicamp, and hopefully we'll see what happens."
It's just one piece of a peculiar picture for the former NFL defensive rookie of the year, who signed a one-year deal on Tuesday worth less than half the one the Vikings gave him in 2018. Richardson acknowledged that he'll "get in where I fit in" as part of a tackle group that already includes high-priced acquisitions Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson.
“I've proven my talent last year, years ago and pretty much every year I've played in the league.”
The Browns released Richardson on April 16, rather than paying him $11 million in the final season of the three-year deal he earned after a 4 1/2-sack season with the Vikings in 2018. Richardson compared a smaller offer from the Browns against one the Vikings made him two weeks ago, and decided he'd return to Minnesota in hopes his work with assistant head coach Andre Patterson could be the same kind of springboard in 2021 it was in 2018, when the Vikings gave him a one-year, $8 million deal.
"The reason why I had my deal in Cleveland was because of Dre and him putting me in positions to be productive," Richardson said. "I know his philosophy and what he brings to the table. He can get the best out of me, too, so it's a match made in heaven."
Richardson's new contract is worth $3.6 million, with another $735,000 available to him in incentives, according to a league source. The fact he got $3 million in guaranteed money suggests the Vikings have a sizable role in mind for the 30-year-old, who posted 4 1/2 sacks for the Browns in 2020 under first-year coach Kevin Stefanski.
The Vikings have long sought the type of interior pass rush Richardson brought in 2018. He could step in on passing downs, or eventually work with Tomlinson and Pierce in sub packages if the Vikings decide to get creative with their veteran tackles.
Richardson said he didn't mind moving to different spots. "I've played outside linebacker before in this league, so I really don't mind it at all," he added. "And I was 330 when I did that. I'm 286 right now and feeling good. Like I said, just trying to get back in football shape and let the chips fall where they lie."
He'll look for his fit as part of a Vikings defensive line built around three other veterans — Pierce, Tomlinson and Danielle Hunter — who didn't play a snap for the team last year. The Vikings had all four of them on the field Tuesday, as Hunter watched practice from the sideline in his first day on the field since last August.
The group represents a marked change for an organization that spent part of the winter stewing over its lack of defensive line depth. If Richardson plays a big role this season, it could set him up for one more chance at a solid contract next spring, when he'll be 31.
"I'm proven," he said. "I've proven my talent last year, years ago and pretty much every year I've played in the league. The way the business works, [teams] hold you [until] five days before the draft and there's no more money in free agency. You've got to take what they hand out."
His bet, now, is that his second stay in Minnesota can be as beneficial as his first one was.
"Honestly, just couldn't come to an agreement with what I wanted from Cleveland," Richardson said. "And me being cool with the organization here and knowing everything with what Zim and Coach Dre bring to the table for me … they put me in position to make plays earlier in my career. It was a perfect fit."