Note: Ahead of free agency next week, when formal talks with other teams can begin March 16 before signings start March 18, we’ll preview the reasons for and against re-signing the Vikings’ top five unrestricted free agents and give you our projection.
No. 2: Defensive end Everson Griffen
When Griffen restructured his contract last March, minutes before his 2019 base salary became guaranteed, he negotiated the right to void the final three years of his contract if he met playing time or sack thresholds during the season. Griffen reached both of those milestones in a productive season, and officially voided his contract last month to become a free agent for the first time in his career.
Asked a day after the Vikings’ playoff loss to San Francisco whether he wanted to return to Minnesota for an 11th season with the team, Griffen said, “I want to be a Viking for life, but it’s a business, so we’ll figure that out when the time gets here.”
Reasons to re-sign
At the NFL combine last month, coach Mike Zimmer outlined a pitch to keep Griffen the Vikings had already begun privately before heading to Indianapolis. After missing five games in 2018 while receiving treatment for mental health issues, Griffen played 15 games in 2019, ranking 14th among NFL edge defenders with 66 pressures (according to Pro Football Focus) and resumed his role as a team captain whose voice carries plenty of weight with teammates. He’ll turn 33 in December, but is still a formidable athlete who’s developed great command of his skills. As Zimmer outlined at the combine, Griffen’s longstanding relationship with co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson could carry some weight, as does his ability to stay in the city where he’s spent his entire NFL career and started a family. The Vikings’ pitch to Griffen about staying in Minnesota has revolved around many of those themes.
Reasons to move on
Several factors could ultimately lead Griffen to leave the Vikings after 10 seasons. If he’s interested in testing his value — albeit in a free agent market stocked with pass rushers — Minnesota doesn’t figure to be the place where he’ll maximize it. How interested he is in exploring another team’s culture, and how close he believes the Vikings are to Super Bowl contention, could ultimately determine his interest in taking what might be a below-market deal to stay — especially if a team like Seattle (with Russell Wilson and Griffen’s former college coach, Pete Carroll) or Buffalo (a young playoff team where former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is the defensive coordinator) can present some sense of familiarity. The Vikings also have Ifeadi Odenigbo, who’s coming off a seven-sack season, and Stephen Weatherly (who’s started in spots and proven to be a solid run defender in four years). If they decide to re-sign Weatherly and give Odenigbo more playing time, Griffen might be more of a luxury than a necessity. Especially if the Seahawks decide they can’t afford Jadeveon Clowney, they could be the team to watch.
It seems, this close to free agency, that Griffen will at least explore his options elsewhere and see if there’s a good deal for him in a place like Seattle. If he ultimately returns to the Vikings, it could be because he doesn’t find an offer to his liking on the open market and eventually decides during the second wave of free agency to sign with Minnesota for another year.