Former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen departed the franchise about one year ago and spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions in 2020. He registered a 63.2 Pro Football Focus grade behind seven sacks on two teams.
There is still a place in the NFL for Griffen. He recently turned 33 years old, which means the long-time Viking has a few years left to contribute.
For a period of weeks, it was widely theorized that he would return to Minnesota after a short NFC-centric sabbatical. The Lions capped their underwhelming 2020 campaign while Griffen sets sights on free agency. That starts in two weeks. Griffen used Twitter to indicate that we would welcome a Vikings reunion, so the stars were aligning.
Then he tweeted weird stuff.
He told the world that Vikings signal-caller Kirk Cousins was “ass” and offered other combative statements about Vikings personnel [that have since been scrubbed from social media, although screenshots are eternal].
Minnesota is a team in need of a pass-rushing turnaround. The level of pressure they orchestrated in 2020 was embarrassing – especially for a team led by head coach Mike Zimmer.
So, is a Griffen return to the Vikings realistic? Probably not.
Stephen Weatherly Addition Minimizes the Possibility
If one can subtract from memory that Griffen insulted Cousins and told a Vikings fan to figuratively perform oral sex on him, yes, a return to Minnesota was doable.
But when the franchise re-upped with Stephen Weatherly on Thursday, the odds of Griffen coming home were hooked up to life support. Weatherly will fill the role in 2021 that folks previously prophesized for Griffen. That is – a semi-situational defensive end that sees action on third down and in relief of the starting right EDGE rushers. Weatherly might even be more “rotational” should Zimmer employ a full RDE-by-committee approach in September.
That was supposed to be Griffen’s job description – if he rejoined Minnesota at all.
Interestingly, it was the younger Weatherly that substituted for Griffen in 2018 when Griffen left the team for a series of weeks to get some life items in order. Now, it will be Weatherly-instead-of-Griffen in a more permanent manner.
“Too Many” DEs
Holding out hope for a Griffen to play for the 2021 Vikings is not totally foolish. It could still happen. Yet, it would require the roster deconstruction of about two existing defensive ends. The team currently holsters Danielle Hunter, Jalyn Holmes, Ifeadi Odenigbo, D.J. Wonnum, Hercules Mata’afa, and Weatherly at defensive end. Perhaps one or two of those names will fall off the roster by September, but it is still a lot of names for Griffen to surpass on a depth chart. And outside of Hunter, those above-listed men play on small contracts. Griffen would necessitate a few million at minimum to eke through the doors in Eagan.
All of those names are options at EGDE before the draft begins. The Vikings will likely pluck at least one pass rusher of the future to groom from the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s just a matter of which round at this juncture in March.
Probably a Situational Pass Rusher from Now on
Griffen played 281 snaps for the Cowboys and 211 snaps for the Lions. All told, he participated in 492 defensive plays in 2020 – which is about 45% of all snaps per average. He accrued seven sacks.
That ilk of output remains quite valuable for NFL franchises. Griffen will find a landing spot, but it will probably be in the same capacity that he experienced in 2020. Call it part-time defensive employment. Griffen’s baby is rushing the passer. Teams crave that.
Translating his seven sacks to a rate of double the snaps – a true-blue DE1 workload – places Griffen around 13-14 sacks for a season. Griffen can sign with a DE-needy team and hope to garnish a starter’s playing time. In that scenario, though, it will likely be a team that has limited options at defensive end. As a rule of thumb, such teams are not playoff-contenders. Therefore, Griffen could find himself in Adrian Peterson territory – chase the playoffs or settle for more playing time?
The probability of Griffen suiting up in NFC purple for 2021 is very low. The likelihood dipped even further when the Vikings signed Stephen Weatherly.