MANKATO – Before climbing onto his bicycle and pedaling through the Minnesota State Mankato campus on Wednesday morning, Everson Griffen had some signing to do.
With a snazzy red leather backpack slung over his shoulders, Griffen signed dozens of autographs outside of Sears Hall. As he shuffled from fan to fan over a seven-minute span, voices from the crowd asked him about experiencing his final training camp in Mankato, his children and — oh yeah — the other thing he had just signed.
Minutes after arriving on campus, the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end inked a lucrative contract extension that will keep him under contract through the 2022 season.
The four-year extension, worth $58 million with $34 million guaranteed for injury according to a league source, places him among the NFL’s highest-paid edge rushers.
“This means I’m a Viking for life,” the 29-year-old said during a news conference.
Three years ago, after Mike Zimmer was hired as coach, the Vikings gave Griffen, at that point in time a backup and situational pass rusher, a five-year, $42.5 million contract and let Jared Allen walk, a move that many NFL analysts questioned.
Griffen has since become one of the league’s best defensive ends, racking up 30.5 sacks over the past three seasons and getting selected to the past two Pro Bowls.
“I think we all knew [a deal] was going to happen. You don’t let guys like that go,” safety Harrison Smith said. “A lot of time people just see sack numbers and that’s what sticks out. But he’s a complete player that dominates the game — run and pass.”
Griffen, who lasted until the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft because some teams had concerns about how he carried himself off the field, has made 234 tackles, recorded 48 sacks and forced seven fumbles during his seven seasons in Minnesota.
While starting 47 of the past 48 games, Griffen played a critical role in the defensive turnaround under Zimmer. The Vikings were 31st in total defense in 2013 and improved their ranking in each of the past three seasons. In 2016, they finished third.
“I don’t have to change nothing in my play but just take my game to the next level each and every day and help this team win,” the 6-3, 273-pound defender said.
Griffen had two years remaining on his old deal, but General Manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings wanted to lock in one of their “core players” for another long haul.
Spielman said signing Griffen early also gives the Vikings more financial flexibility with a handful of other key starters set to become free agents in either 2017 or 2018.
“We’ll continue to work and monitor other potential extensions,” he said. “I do think we have some very talented young players and want to keep this group together as long as we can.”
Spielman declined to name names, but Xavier Rhodes is presumably next in line. The Pro Bowl cornerback is set to become a free agent after the season. The Vikings have been trying to hammer out a deal with him, too, so it could happen in the coming days.
They apparently have not, however, prioritized signing Sam Bradford to a new contract. The quarterback said Wednesday that nothing with his situation has changed since the spring, when he told reporters the Vikings had not reached out to his agent. Spielman, meanwhile, said that decisions at the quarterback position “will come in time.”
Other Vikings who could be candidates for extensions in the coming months include nose tackle Linval Joseph, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and defensive end Danielle Hunter, Griffen’s pass-rushing partner.
Griffen was the one who rode off with a big payday Wednesday, and he is thankful that the Vikings consider him one of the players — and people — around whom they want to build.
“I appreciate each day I step on the football field. I appreciate the coaching staff, the ownership, the organization. It shows me that they respect me more than [just as] a player and as a man, too. I can never take that for granted,” Griffen said.