Everson Griffen might be the quintessential Rick Spielman Viking.
He was an explosive athlete who slipped in the draft because of character concerns.
He grew into a star under the tutelage of excellent defensive coaches, in this case defensive line coach Andre Patterson and head coach/de facto defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
He has become a free agent because the Vikings, in their annual efforts to win a Super Bowl, spent so much on other players that they couldn’t afford him even if they wanted him to stay.
Draft find. Overachiever. Salary cap casualty. Everson Griffen might not have his number retired, but his might be the face of the Spielman era.
While other organizations in town occasionally embrace tanking or long-term rebuilding, the Vikings have been trying to win a championship with many of the same key players since 2015.
The price of constant competitiveness is often referred to as salary cap Hades, but it’s really more like purgatory. The Vikings will enter 2020 with a quality roster, key personnel losses and a tight budget.
The likely loss of Griffen is the first piece removed in this game of pigskin Jenga. Here are the players who will force the Vikings to make difficult decisions in the coming months:
• Running back Dalvin Cook: He has one year remaining on his contract. If he’s willing to play under those terms, the Vikings will be off the hook.
If he demands a contract extension to play in 2020 — and his agent should be fired for malpractice if he doesn’t — Cook will constitute the Vikings’ biggest problem.
Should they A) pay a running back because he is vital to their offense, or B) heed conventional wisdom that says running backs have short shelf lives and can be easily replaced?
Smart teams choose B.
• Quarterback Kirk Cousins: The urge to win now will prompt the Vikings to consider giving Cousins an extension that will reduce his 2020 salary-cap figure, but doing so ties the Vikings to Cousins beyond this year.
The easy and logical thing to do is to extend Cousins. I wouldn’t. I’d let him play for a new contract this year, knowing that if 2020 is a failure the Vikings might be forced to rebuild, and might as well do so with a young starter.
• Receiver Stefon Diggs: His attitude last season and his recent social media indicators have prompted speculation that he wants to be traded. But trading him would cost the Vikings money they can’t afford, and one of their best (and best young) players. You don’t go for it by getting rid of one of your best players while damaging your finances — unless Diggs promises to be such a pain that the team is better off without him. Diggs will have to reprise Antonio Brown’s bad behaviors to prompt a trade.
• Safety Anthony Harris: The Vikings need to keep him. He’s not only an outstanding player, but he’s the kind of player organizations need to reward. He worked his way through the ranks to become a starter, excelled in his first full year as a starter and is as classy as anyone in the locker room.
• Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander: Alexander had the best season. Waynes had the better season of the two starters. Rhodes performed horribly.
But Alexander is expected to leave, and Waynes’ contract is up. As counterintuitive as this may sound, the Vikings’ best bet might be to talk Rhodes into a pay cut and restructured contract and hope he bounces back. The alternative is paying Waynes well more than he’s worth or starting over at the cornerback position.
• Defensive tackle Linval Joseph: He was an excellent free-agent signing but has reached the point in his career where he needs to take a pay cut or be replaced.
• Offensive tackle Riley Reiff: He needs to move to guard and take a pay cut.
If that sounds cold, please understand that the conversation will be that simple.
The Vikings will tell Reiff’s agent: “Move to guard and agree to a new deal, or we’ll cut you.’’
Maybe the NFLPA, while agreeing to a deal that will make the owners much more money, should insist on NFL teams upholding the terms of the contracts they sign.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org