Everson Griffen was in classic form Friday during the final Vikings practice this season, dancing to the weekly “Funky Friday” tunes between stretches.
But Sunday’s season finale against the Lions could be the defensive end’s swan song in purple as one of the team’s 15 unrestricted free agents this offseason.
His four-year stint would end with the same amount of starts as playoff appearances: one. It’s not what Griffen expected he was drafted out of Southern Cal.
“I wouldn’t believe it,” Griffen said when asked if he thought he’d start only once in four seasons after he was drafted. “But it is what it is. In this league you have to be humble and wait for your time.”
The fourth-round pick in 2010 still had ample opportunity for playing time. Once Griffen hits the field on Sunday, it will be his third consecutive season appearing in every game. Some expected Griffen to have a breakout season, but his sack total has dropped from eight to 4.5.
With the Bengals up 42-14 in the fourth quarter last Sunday, Griffen was in on sacks on consecutive plays, giving him a season-high 1.5. It’s the most since a career-high three sacks in last year’s season finale against the Packers. That was part of a three-game stretch in which Griffen saw an increase in snaps because of an injury to defensive end Brian Robison.
Griffen recorded his first career interception, which he returned for a touchdown, against the Rams last season, and made his lone start against the Texans the following week. That seemed to mean he was ready for a breakout season.
So what exactly has transpired over the past year with Griffen’s productivity?
“Football is built on rhythm and the feel of the game,” Griffen said. “It’s hard to get a feel of the game when you’re coming in and out.”
Griffen has bounced back and forth from end to tackle with Robison and Jared Allen, who is also headed for free agency, solidifying the end positions during his time with the franchise. It displays Griffen’s versatility, but it limits his ability as a pass rusher.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Monday that he wanted more consistency out of Griffen as an inside rusher against the Bengals. Griffen said that he’s most comfortable at right defensive end and that playing tackle takes away from his speed, one of his best traits.
“It’s everything,” Allen said on rhythm. “And that’s why I don’t like rotations because when you rotate people, you’re really hurting everybody. I’m a firm believer everybody gets their shot to make their mark in camp, then you settle into your role and that’s the role you got to play.
“It’s tough on [Griffen]. I’ve talked to him a lot about it. They ask him to do a lot in a lot of different positions. That’s not fair for him and at the same time it takes someone else off the field that’s trying to do the same thing.”
Griffen said he has adapted to the demands of both positions and accepted his role. He felt he had a nice season, and has tied his career high for tackles (26).
Frazier thinks Griffen has the potential to become a starting end and get 60 snaps a game. Griffen knows he could handle that, even heading into an offseason filled with uncertainty.
“I know what I can do when I get presented the opportunity and [the Vikings] know what I can do when presented the opportunity,” Griffen said. “You just got to wait until your time is called. That time is going to come for me, and I’m never going to look back again. I’ll be playing just like [Allen and Robison] are playing: end, end, end.”
Griffen hopes to get that chance next season, either in Minnesota or with one of the other 31 NFL teams.