The Vikings' biggest remaining need heading into the 2021 season — certainly on the defensive side of the ball and arguably on the entire roster — is a proven defensive end who can get after the quarterback and complement Danielle Hunter. As it happens, there's a veteran player on the market who spent a decade in Minnesota racking up sacks and still has some gas left in the tank at 33 years old.
That player is Everson Griffen, a fan favorite and all-time Vikings great who lives in Minnesota and clearly wants to rejoin his old team. However, for a number of reasons, whether or not the Vikings should sign him is a complicated issue.
It's been apparent since the 2020 season ended that Griffen wants to come back. The 2010 fourth-round pick from USC became a star playing for Mike Zimmer and Andre Patterson, ranking fourth in the NFL with 43.5 sacks from 2014 to 2017. The Vikings stuck with him through some mental health struggles in 2018, and he was a huge part of a playoff team in 2019 with eight sacks and 66 pressures.
But the Vikings let him walk after that season for financial reasons, and he bounced from the Cowboys to the Lions last year, recording six sacks in 14 games. Six months later, he's still without a team for 2021.
Griffen turns 34 in December and isn't alone in being a capable veteran who has yet to find a team. But part of his ongoing free agency, and specifically the Vikings being hesitant to pick him up, has to do with off-the-field issues. Griffen has battled some demons in his life, which he has previously attributed to losing his mother in 2012. Those surfaced in 2018 with some serious incidents that caused him to step away from the team for a while. Then, back in January, Griffen bizarrely tweeted at the Vikings saying "Kirk Cousins is ass" and that Zimmer never wanted Cousins, before later apologizing. He's been mostly off Twitter for several months now after frequently retweeting and responding to fans back in January and February.
So it's not a simple issue for the Vikings. Could they use his pass rushing ability if they knew he wouldn't cause any problems off the field? Of course. He can still play — Griffen had a 73.6 PFF pass rush grade last year — and he knows the system, coaches, and many of the players extremely well. But he burned some bridges, and they'd have to make sure they're confident in his mental well-being before adding him to the locker room. Plus, the Vikings will almost certainly see what they have in Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, and Janarius Robinson before they consider giving Griffen a job.
If there was any doubt that Griffen wants to come back to the Vikings, play-by-play announcer and plugged-in KFAN host Paul Allen cleared that up this week. He shared on his show 92Noon that he's been texting with Griffen, trying to get him to come onto the show, which he expects to happen soon.
“He desperately wants to come back to the Minnesota Vikings," Allen said.
Here's a text from Griffen that Allen read on the air:
"I never should’ve left the Vikings. I f***ed up. What I tweeted was wrong. The Vikings organization took great care of me through my ups and downs and I disrespected a lot of people."
That seems like some legitimate contrition from Griffen, which is an important step. Allen isn't ruling out a reunion, but it's not something he's counting on.
"He has people in his corner with the Minnesota Vikings, I feel comfortable in saying that," Allen said. "And I would not rule out Everson Griffen joining the Vikings before the season, but I wouldn’t bet on it."
Allen and former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber discussed the situation and agreed on the most likely scenario: the Vikings won't sign Griffen before training camp, but if they're not feeling great about what they have at DE opposite Danielle Hunter as camp progresses, they could look into it.
“If the right defensive end spot in training camp is not working, I’m feeling 97 [Griffen] would crawl to Eagan just for a chance to win back the love of the Minnesota Vikings," Allen said.
Here's what Leber, who played with Griffen for a season and has spent plenty of time around him since then, had to say.
“I don’t see why you don’t kick those tires. I think the familiarity that the organization has with him, when it comes to everything on and off the field, is a huge bonus. Most of your research is already done. Now you just want to make sure that physically are you where we want you to be, do we feel like you still have that quick step?
"They need to have that conversation of, if this happens, we need to be up front with you on what your role is going to be. We need you to be a good soldier. You know how he is, he's loud, he's boisterous, his opinion matters, and he gets emotional. I envision the conversation going sort of like this: 'Everson, you're not a starter. You won't be a starter. You're going to be a rotational guy and we want you to do what you do best. That is not to play the run, that is to be a third down trick pony that we're going to put out there in a sub package and we want you to go. You're going to get 20 snaps a game, 25 snaps a game, you have to be okay with that.'"
The other part of the equation, assuming the Vikings are interested at all, is timing. Leber pointed out that it doesn't make sense for Minnesota to sign him now, or even during training camp. But if they were to sign him after Week 1, when veteran salaries no longer are guaranteed, Leber thinks that could work.
"As long as there's transparency with the organization and Everson, saying 'this is where you're going to be when you come in for Week 2 and you have to accept that, you have to be a good soldier, you can't be blasting anybody, you can't be putting stuff out on Twitter, you can't voice your displeasure, you can't not show up, because guess what, your contract isn't guaranteed and we can cut you like that,'" Leber said.
Will this happen? Who knows. Maybe the Vikings go after a DE like Justin Houston or Melvin Ingram instead. Maybe they're satisfied with what they have and don't want to take the risk. But because of Griffen's talent, his history in Minnesota and familiarity with the organization, and the team's lack of proven depth at the position, it absolutely can't be ruled out.
We'll just have to wait and see.
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