The several-million-dollar question for the Vikings salary cap next season is if the team and defensive end Everson Griffen will reach a contract agreement that works for both sides.
Under his current deal, Griffen is due $13.9 million in 2020, $14.4 million in 2021 and $15.5 million in 2022. But the contract was part of a restructured deal the Vikings made with Griffen before this season to save salary cap space, and one of the details was that if Griffen played 65% of defensive snaps this season or reached six sacks, he can void the contract and become an unrestricted free agent.
Griffen has played on 83.9% of defensive snaps this season and already has eight sacks, so he’ll have the ability to become a free agent if he wishes.
The Vikings have a $202.7 million salary cap figure for next season with Griffen’s contract taken into account, but it might be difficult to re-sign their star defensive end.
Griffen worked hard to return to being an elite player. Earlier this season, he told me what he learned from the 2018 season when he missed five games while dealing with mental health issues.
“I’m not going to say it’s easy, you know, but each and every day I go in with the right mind-set and take it and try to win the day, win the moment and try to just help this team win,” Griffen said. “Last year is over and done with. I’m not going to forget it, but it taught me a valuable lesson that it’s OK to ask for help. I’m going to keep on doing that.”
Pro Football Focus has Griffen rated as the 20th-best edge rusher in the NFL and second best on the Vikings, trailing only Danielle Hunter (No. 3 overall).
Griffen’s eight sacks this season are tied for fourth most in his career — trailing only his 13 sacks in 2017, 12 in 2014 and 10½ in 2015 — with two games remaining.
And Pro Football Focus noted that Griffen’s 24 quarterback hits are tied for sixth most in the NFL and lead the Vikings.
Griffen, in his 10th season with the team, has become one of the longest-tenured Vikings in club history, and there’s no doubt he’s a key part of their defensive identity under coach Mike Zimmer. In franchise history only eight defensive ends have played in 100 career games, and Griffen ranks sixth with 146 games played, more than any other current member of the club.
U fans will travel
Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said that when it comes to the Gophers fans’ reputation for attendance at bowl games, they have proved they will travel to the right contest.
And you have to imagine that facing Auburn in the Outback Bowl will be a big draw, especially because it’s a New Year’s Day game in Tampa.
“I can tell you in my conversations for the past two, three weeks, I have been talking to the directors of the bowls — the Florida bowls and other bowl games — and we talk about we had such a strong showing at the  Citrus Bowl [losing 33-17 to Missouri in Orlando], a lot of people went to that game,” he said.
“We went to the  Holiday Bowl [beating Washington State 17-12 in San Diego], and we traveled well. When we were in Detroit last year [defeating Georgia Tech 34-10 in the Quick Lane Bowl] we traveled well. I would agree that people understand that the Gophers will travel.”
Coyle recently attended the Big Ten athletic directors meetings and said the football team’s success this season was noticed by everyone in the conference.
“There is no doubt,” Coyle said. “I can tell you I had to go down to Indianapolis … and how many people came up to me congratulating me on having a great season for our football program and Coach [P.J.] Fleck and a lot of people screaming ‘Row the Boat’ as you walk around with a Minnesota sweatshirt on. It was nice to see Coach Fleck and our team get some well-deserved recognition for this season.”
Buxton healing well
Twins General Manager Thad Levine said one of the best bits of news so far this offseason is that after shoulder surgery in September, center fielder Byron Buxton is on track to be 100% healthy by the start of spring training.
“Buxton is on plan and on target,” Levine said. “The reason he had surgery and missed the last portion of last year was for the express purpose of being full go when we got to spring training and he is tracking to be just that.
“He is working tirelessly. We hooked him up with a personal therapist and trainer, close to his home in Baxley, Georgia, and he has been working diligently. We have been checking in with him periodically and we’ll get another chance to do that with him in person here at TwinsFest coming up, but everything is pointing to the fact that Byron will be full go with no restrictions ideally for the early part of spring training, and that is fabulous news.”
The simple fact is this: When Buxton played last season the Twins went 62-25, a number that would put them in line for 115 wins.
“It’s hard to know what to make of these types of statistics but just the statistics play out that when he is on the field, our team has won a higher percentage of games,” Levine said. “We’re looking forward to having a full Byron Buxton back for 2020.”
Pitino on Oturu
Basketball coach Richard Pitino got one of the biggest victories of his career when the Gophers defeated No. 3 Ohio State 84-71 on Sunday.
Even though the Gophers (5-5, 1-1 Big Ten) have struggled this season, sophomore center Daniel Oturu has been their best player. He scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in stopping the Buckeyes.
NBADraft.net has Oturu listed as the No. 24 overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Pitino said one of the things that makes Oturu unique is his ability to not only dominate inside, but also shoot from the perimeter.
“We took our team to the Wolves game [on Dec. 13] and everybody on the court can shoot. It’s all about shot-making,” Pitino said. “The NBA wants to see guys, even if you’re 6-10, 6-11, who can stretch the court because that’s the way the game is moving. A guy like Daniel Oturu, I think, intrigues NBA people because he can make a three. It’s very, very important. It’s part of the game. You have to be able to develop your bigs to do that, but also get them to understand that they have to be able to get down low and embrace the physicality as well.”