As the Vikings look for ways to upgrade their roster this offseason, could they find themselves interested in a pair of veteran free agents who began their careers in Minnesota? Everson Griffen and Cordarrelle Patterson will be unrestricted free agents in March, and both players could provide talent and experience at positions of need for the Vikings.
The key when it comes to a potential reunion with either player is simple: how much would it cost? The Vikings don't have much flexibility with a salary cap that is expected to go down in 2021 due to COVID-related revenue losses. However, they should be able to clear some space by moving on from pricey veterans (Riley Reiff, Kyle Rudolph, and Anthony Harris are some of the obvious big-name candidates) and perhaps restructuring a few contracts as well.
Once the Vikings do look at the free agent market, they have to determine which position groups they want to prioritize. Minnesota has needs on both lines and in the secondary, and those needs could change depending on which players they lose this offseason. They also have holes at depth spots like backup quarterback and No. 3 receiver. Regardless, it's hard to argue that Griffen and Patterson wouldn't make the team better in 2021.
Of the two, Griffen is the one who seems to be actively pursuing a return to Minnesota. He has spent much of the week since the regular season ended endorsing Vikings fans' calls for him to come back by retweeting them on Twitter and reposting them to his Instagram story. Griffen also posted this picture:
The caption of that photo is the same line Griffen used when talking to the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently. “You tell them, I said, ‘If you want it, go get it,’” Griffen told Chris Tomasson. “You can put that. If you want it, come get it. That’s what I want you to say."
Not only that, but Griffen is actually in Minnesota right now. He posted a video on Wednesday in which he was driving near U.S. Bank Stadium, and he went to the Vikings' practice facility in Eagan on Thursday.
It makes sense that Griffen would be interested in returning to the Vikings, considering his year away from the organization didn't go as he may have hoped. After a decade in Minnesota, the two sides parted ways last summer, with Griffen choosing to sign with the Cowboys. He spent seven weeks in Dallas before being traded to the Lions and finishing the season in Detroit. Griffen finished the year with just six sacks and 33 pressures (per PFF).
Those numbers aren't much by Griffen's standards, but his six sacks would've led the Vikings and his 33 pressures would've been second behind Ifeadi Odenigbo. Losing Griffen in free agency and Danielle Hunter to season-ending neck surgery left the Vikings with one of the weakest pass-rushing corps in the NFL. Yannick Ngakoue, who only played six games in Minnesota, led the team with five sacks. No one else had more than 3.5.
"A priority for me is that we continue to get more pass rushers," Mike Zimmer said in his season-ending press conference on Tuesday. "I've always said since the day I walked in here that you've got to have people that can cover and you've got to have people that can rush."
That quote was retweeted by Griffen.
So it's clear that Griffen is open to coming back to Minnesota. (It's worth noting that he has also reposted fans calling for him to stay with the Lions or go elsewhere, like Seattle). The Vikings have a need for edge rushing help. If they signed Griffen, they could bring along D.J. Wonnum and a potential early-round draft pick slowly.
The question is whether or not the Vikings feel like a reunion is worth it. Griffen made roughly $6 million last year in his stints with the Cowboys and Lions. Would he be willing to take less than that for a short-term deal in Minnesota? If not, would that money be better allocated elsewhere for the Vikings? Griffen is 33 years old and has been involved in some off-the-field troubles, going through mental health struggles in 2018 and taking offense to Zimmer calling him a "good player" in November. Still, he's an extremely talented pass rusher and was the Vikings' emotional leader for many years. Last season, Minnesota seemed to be missing the fiery edge that Griffen always brought.
There's also Patterson, who, like Griffen, remains a fan favorite in Minnesota. Even though Patterson hasn't been a Viking since 2016, he's still close with Adam Thielen and other current players. The man known as "Flash" hasn't done much as a runner or receiver with the Raiders, Patriots, or Bears over the past four years, but his status as one of the NFL's best kickoff returners hasn't changed. The Vikings found that out the hard way in November.
Patterson has taken a kickoff to the house in each of the past three seasons, giving him eight in his eight-year career. He finished second in kickoff return average in each of the past two seasons.
The Vikings could really use a playmaker like Patterson in their return game. They didn't get much of a spark from K.J. Osborn or Ameer Abdullah in that area this year. But again, it comes down to cost. Patterson made a total of $10 million over the past two seasons in Chicago. How much would the Vikings be willing to spend on a guy who turns 30 in March and doesn't offer much outside of special teams?
It's just speculation at this point with Patterson, who has a Bears playoff game to focus on this weekend. With Griffen, there's more concrete evidence of a potential return given that he literally visited the Vikings' facility this week.
Both guys' names are worth keeping in mind as free agency approaches and the Vikings look to improve their roster ahead of a crucially important 2021 season.
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