Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer both felt the team’s priority this offseason was to improve a defense that ranked next-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed last season.
They got a jump start on Sunday, two days before free agency officially begins.
Defensive end Everson Griffen agreed to a five-year, $42.5 million deal to re-sign with the team, according to three NFL sources. The Vikings also brought back linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who was drafted by the team in 2009, on a one-year deal.
Griffen’s signing will mark the end of defensive end Jared Allen’s career in Minnesota. The two sides mutually parted ways, according to Allen’s agent Ken Harris.
Griffen, 26, will receive $20 million guaranteed and $27 million over the first three years of his deal. The team’s fourth-round draft pick in 2010 served as a backup behind Allen and Brian Robison and made only one career start over four seasons. Griffen’s athleticism enabled him to play at all four positions on the defensive line, but with Allen’s departure he will get a chance to consistently start at defensive end.
“They’re going to use me; I haven’t been used, and it’s time,” Griffen said Sunday. “The money is always a good thing, but at the same time I finally get to be used. … Coach Zimmer is going to use me. The Minnesota Vikings are going to use me in every way possible. The only thing you guys can do is wait, just wait for this to erupt.”
Zimmer was one of the main reasons Griffen wanted to return, along with his fiancée, Tiffany Brandt, and 18-month-old son, Grayson, residing in the Twin Cities.
Griffen said Zimmer’s blunt personality is what he wants from a coach. Griffen wants Zimmer to criticize and praise him when it’s warranted so he can reach his potential.
“I don’t need a coach to beat around the bush,” Griffen said. “I need a coach that’ll be in my face and tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I’m doing right.”
Griffen was considered one of the best defensive ends in a thin free agent market, along with Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson. The Vikings made contact with Johnson’s representation on Saturday when the three-day negotiating window opened.
Griffen’s deal likely means the team won’t pursue Johnson, but the Vikings still have needs at cornerback and defensive tackle. The team has reached out to cornerback Alterraun Verner, who played for Tennessee last year, and former Tampa Bay defensive tackle Derek Landri, according to two NFL sources.
Griffen is the second player the Vikings agreed to re-sign over the weekend. Quarterback Matt Cassel agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract on Friday. The Vikings should have around $25 million in cap space left after the two signings to continue rebuilding the team.
“We’re not talking about losing; we’re talking about winning, man,” Griffen said. “No, the Minnesota Vikings, we’re on the up rise right now. I just want to win and be great.”
Allen, who will turn 32 next month, decided to part ways with the Vikings on Saturday night, Harris said. He narrowed his list to five teams, with three standing out as ones he possibly would visit.
The 11-year veteran spent six years with the Vikings after he was acquired from the Chiefs in 2008. Allen reached double figures in sacks throughout his tenure and also led the NFL in sacks in 2007 with 15 ½ and in 2011 with 22, which was a half-sack shy of matching the NFL single-season record. Allen finished last season with 11 ½ sacks.
Allen earned three of his four career first-team All-Pro honors with Minnesota and was named to the 50 Greatest Vikings team in 2010.
While Allen won’t return, the Vikings will bring back Brinkley, who spent his first three seasons with the team before joining the Cardinals last season. Brinkley, 28, was cut by Arizona, which enabled the Vikings to strike a deal before the start of free agency on Tuesday. Terms of the one-year deal weren’t disclosed, but Brinkley described it as a “prove-it deal.”
Brinkley said he has had to prove himself on the field since he left high school. He went to junior college before playing at South Carolina, where he tore an ACL in 2007.
“Nothing has ever been given to me, so just to have the opportunity is great,” Brinkley said. “The opportunity to be in Minnesota is great also because it’s a familiar place for me.”