Defensive end Everson Griffen’s passion, which helped make him the voice of the Vikings defense for the second half of his decade in Minnesota, has turned on his former team this week.
Griffen, who was traded to the Detroit Lions from the Dallas Cowboys last week, is one of three former Vikings returning to U.S. Bank Stadium with the Lions on Sunday, joining running back Adrian Peterson and safety Jayron Kearse.
It’s the third return for Peterson but the first for Griffen, a former Vikings captain who started 93 games over a decade, since he and the team couldn’t agree on a contract this offseason for him to come back for an 11th year.
Griffen will arrive motivated, using Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s word choice this week for an edge.
Asked about Griffen earlier this week, Zimmer said, “I’ve seen some [film] with Dallas. They’ve been in some of the crossover games. Everson was a good player for us. I wish him well, just not this week.”
At Griffen’s videoconference Thursday, he said: “I be looking and, I’m just a good player? All right, he got a good player coming his way. He’s going to see Sunday what he got coming for him.
“He’s going to put respect on my name, that’s all I’m saying. He [wasn’t just] a good coach to me, he was a great coach. He helped me improve, helped me grow. I don’t ever talk bad about people, so for him to call me a good player, all right, I got something for him on Sunday.”
But Griffen also said he was “not going to let the emotions get to me. I’m just blessed to be at this point in my life, standing strong with my mental health and my physical health, too.”
He added that he missed his former teammates such as Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris and Eric Kendricks — and Zimmer too.
Griffen continued on social media Thursday afternoon, writing, “I gave everything to that team, so yes, I expect more,” in response to a post about Zimmer generally not being very talkative with the media about former players.
The 32-year-old Griffen could get a healthy dose of opportunity against his former team. The Lions placed defensive end Trey Flowers on injured reserve, opening a lane Griffen could help fill despite not practicing with Detroit until Wednesday.
Griffen’s former Vikings teammates offered him the love he sought from his former head coach. This week, after Sunday’s win in Green Bay, Zimmer showed the team a highlight reel of plays demonstrating how individual extraordinary effort helped them win.
“Everson used to be on that clip all the time,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “Just kind of doing extra effort things that weren’t necessarily his job, but he would go make a play across the field and he’d be working until that whistle was blown.”
Peterson, now 35 and on his fifth NFL team after signing with the Lions in September, knows both good and bad reunions with the Vikings. He said Sunday will be different. In his first game against the Vikings, with the New Orleans Saints in 2017, he played nine snaps and followed coach Sean Payton down the sideline demanding to run the ball more.
Vikings fans gave Peterson a standing ovation in his return last year with Washington, which led with 14 carries for 76 yards.
“Of course, it’s not like New Orleans,” Peterson said. “Well, I’ll take that back. It was different situations [with] New Orleans, how that played out. And then going back with Washington, that’s the one that’s going to be everlasting. It was such a great experience. It was a blessed night. Nothing will be able to top that. So yeah, it’s not on the same level.”
Although Peterson has started for the Lions, he is in a secondary role behind rookie D’Andre Swift. He could surpass Lions legend Barry Sanders for fourth on the all-time rushing list by next year, given Peterson (14,537 yards) trails by just 732 yards.
Wherever Peterson settles in history, he expects to be on good ground with the Vikings.
“It will be a great relationship,” Peterson said. “I got nothing but love for Rick Spielman, the Wilfs, they’ve all done well by me considering everything that we were able to go through during my time there.
“When you have a family like that, you’re going to have disagreements. You’re going to bump heads and you might not talk for a minute, but at the end of the day you come back around, and you love on each other.”