In free agency the Seattle Seahawks lost defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to the Minnesota Vikings, so the team restocked the position by signing both Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. Johnson and Stephen will like split the duties Richardson had with the Hawks, as they are markedly different players, but even combined their contracts are far smaller than the contract Richardson signed with the Vikings.
Johnson is a pass rushing specialist who has the ability to generate push up the middle on passing downs, while Stephen fills the role of the run stuffer who can clog the middle. In addition, both Stephen and Johnson signed for combined cap hits that are barely over half of the cap hit that Richardson will have for the Vikings this season. Here is a breakdown of both contracts.
The small difference of $18,750 on Stephen’s contract comes from the fact that he only played in 15 games during 2017, meaning only 15 of the 16 per game roster bonuses for 2018 are counted against the cap heading into the season.
Richardson and Stephen are nearly the same age, as Richardson is less than two months older than Stephen, however as many know Johnson is in his mid 30s and will turn 34 in August just before the start of the 2018 season.
Now, I’m not trying to argue that Johnson should be looked at as far younger than 34, but for anyone who subscribes to the tread on the tire theory of aging for NFL players, he may have the body of a player a couple years younger. The reason for this is that after going undrafted out of Southern Miss in 2006, Johnson did not appear in a regular season NFL game until more than five years later, when he finally saw the field for the New Orleans Saints in Week 4 of the 2011 NFL season.
Johnson was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Indianapolis Colts, but he failed to make the roster out of training camp. The next spring he played for the Cologne Centurions in the final season of the NFL Europe in 2007 before again coming to camp with the Colts. After failing to make the Colts roster yet again, he played nine games for the Grand Rapids Rampage and the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League in 2008 before catching on with the Calgary Stampeders. He spent both 2009 and 2010 with the Stampeders before signing a three year contract with the Saints in January 2011.
Finally appearing in a regular season NFL game at 27 years, 1 month and 3 days, Johnson’s body may not have taken quite as much physical abuse as the majority of 34 year old NFL defensive tackles have endured during their career. On the flip side of the argument, it’s entirely possible that without access to NFL trainers, medical professionals, nutritional specialists and the healthcare attention that NFL money can buy, it’s just as possible his body is as beaten up, or even more, than a typical NFL player of his age. I’m not making an argument either way, it’s just one more thing to consider when Seattle takes the field this fall.
In any case, Johnson and Stephen represent a low cost combination to replace Richardson, and we’ll see in the fall how well they can do so.