In his first public comments Tuesday since accepting a pay cut to play his 10th season for the Vikings, defensive end Everson Griffen said he is focused on becoming a “better man, which in return will make me a better player.”
The 31-year-old three-time Pro Bowl selection accepted a $3 million pay cut in March to stay home in the Twin Cities while maintaining his path to recovery as the longest-tenured Vikings player. Griffen missed five games last season when two September police incidents led to mental health treatment.
“When I’m myself, I can play well,” said Griffen, who has 69½ sacks in 136 games (including postseason) for the Vikings. “And last year, I wasn’t myself. If I was myself, I wouldn’t have to take a pay cut.”
Now, Griffen said he’s “happy” and feeling more like his old self after describing a treatment process of “meetings on meetings on meetings” involving a lot of introspection. At the onset of the Vikings’ offseason program this week at TCO Performance Center, Griffen is participating and leaving a good impression.
“He was talking to us in the room [Tuesday], and you can just tell he’s back,” defensive end Danielle Hunter said.
Griffen said he’s “back to smiling, joking,” but added he’s trying to hold himself accountable as he described a daily progression in his mental health recovery.
“Not having that pride to be like, ‘Oh, no,’ ” Griffen said. “But try to find a true understanding of where I messed up and where I went wrong, and really come to terms with it.”
Cousins seeks big plays
Preparing for Year 2 with the Vikings, quarterback Kirk Cousins pinpointed one statistic the offense needs to improve — “explosive plays,” or simply big plays. The Vikings ranked 20th in big pass plays (gains of at least 20 yards) last season. Cousins alluded to ways they can improve while learning a new playbook under coordinator Kevin Stefanski and assistant head coach Gary Kubiak.
“Usually your explosive plays are going to come off play action, bootlegs, trick plays,” Cousins said. “So, we just have to find those right ones and protect and get open and execute.”
Cook aiming for 16
The number in Dalvin Cook’s mind was 16 — a full season of games, which is somehow more than the 15 games he has played for the Vikings in two NFL seasons. The elusive running back enjoyed a rehab-free offseason for the first time while focusing on ways to improve his durability after dealing with anterior cruciate ligament and hamstring injuries.
“The ceiling is real high for me,” Cook said. “I still haven’t scratched the surface yet. It’s just so funny, because right now I’m just working on being out there a full season. That’s the thing with me. It’s all about durability and being accountable for my teammates.”
Mannion eyes No. 2 spot
Newly signed quarterback Sean Mannion is the most experienced backup on the Vikings roster despite throwing just 53 passes in four NFL seasons. The 2015 third-round pick by the Rams said he is already familiar with parts of the Vikings’ playbook, having played in a similar system under Los Angeles coach Sean McVay, and feels confident about backing up Cousins ahead of third-year quarterback Kyle Sloter.
“My goal is to be the backup and be a great asset to this team,” said Mannion, 26. “Be ready to go in and win a game. Further from that, also support Kirk however I can and help him prepare. That’s the role I want.”
‘Don’t love it’
Safety Harrison Smith isn’t necessarily a fan of the NFL’s latest rule change allowing challenges and instant replay of pass interference penalties. Team owners voted in March, reportedly by a 31-to-1 approval, to make interference penalties reviewable and subject to challenge. The change reacted to a non-call against the Saints near the end of January’s NFC Championship Game loss to the Rams.
“As a defensive back, I don’t love it,” Smith said. “They said they’ll review [offensive interference] as well. Probably not.”