With the Jared Allen era almost certainly coming to a close, the Minnesota Vikings -- and new head coach Mike Zimmer -- needed a new face for their defense. And on Sunday, they took decisive action in that regard, giving defensive end Everson Griffen a five-year, $42 million contract extension. The deal, first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, puts the fourth-round pick in 2010 out of USC squarely in the crosshairs as Minnesota's defense looks to rebuild at all levels.
Rated as Pro Football Focus' 19th-best 4-3 defensive end in 2013, Griffen didn't start a single game, but played 717 snaps in 16 games as a nickel rusher and rotational player in base packages. He amassed 5.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits, 39 quarterback hurries and 20 run stops last season. That was a follow-up to his 2012 season, in which he grabbed eight quarterback sacks, 12 hits, 24 hurries and 22 run stops. Though he's started just one game in his four-year NFL career, Griffen has been coming on as one of the better young pass rushers in the game, and it's clear that the Vikings are ready to let him roll with more than just potential.
Zimmer, one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL, will thus have two outstanding pass rushers when he takes the field for his new job in 2014. Last October, the Vikings also signed end Brian Robison to a four-year, $28 million extension with $13 million guaranteed.
That said, the pass rush wasn't the problem in 2013 -- the Vikings ranked 17th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate metric, and 10th in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards allowed. The problem was a pass defense that ranked 29th in FO's opponent-adjusted overall metrics. It's something that Zimmer will look to fix right away. Rookie Xavier Rhodes was the only Vikings starting cornerback to allow an opponent passer rating under 78.3, and the whole group of cornerbacks allowed 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions. The Vikings have inquired about Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner, one of the best in the business.
"We gave up the most points scored in the NFL last year (480), so we’ve got quite a few holes and we’re going to need a lot of good football players, defensively and offensively, as many as we can get and we’re going to have to coach them well," Zimmer said at the scouting combine last month about his new challenge. "It’s all about getting the right players that fit the system we’re looking for -- guys that share the same vision that I have for this football team and putting that all together."
Re-signing Griffen, and having Robison on board, gives Zimmer two foundation pass rushers for the present and future. That's why the deal makes sense.
The Vikings have the cap room to eat these deals short term ($41.250 million before the Griffen signing), but there will be questions about putting so much stock in one position when the Vikings have holes all over the place. And it's a pretty penny for a player who has no real proven starter experience in the NFL, though the nickel rusher has gained a great deal of positional promise in the last few years. But rebuilding teams have to start somewhere, and Griffen has proven that he has the ability to be an elite disruptor when given the chance.