Everson Griffen is a free agent after electing to void his current contract, according to ESPN’s Courtney Cronin.
His deal included specific marks that needed to be cleared (like 6.5 sacks) in order to have the option to hit the market for the first time in his career. Despite a lack of cap space, the Minnesota Vikings may still be interested in his services. Should they look into bringing him back or let Griffen find a home elsewhere? Let’s have a look…
The case for re-signing Griffen
At 32 years old, Griffen is still one of the top players at his position. Pro Football Focus graded him 21st of 63 edge rushers who played at least 50% of snaps in 2019. He created the 14th most pressures (66) and tied for ninth in most QB hits (nine). The Vikings’ Pro Bowler also stayed healthy, playing the 17th most snaps among edge rushers.
With an incredible work ethic and remarkable durability, there haven’t been any signs of a steep decline. Defensive end is a position that has seen a number of its stars successfully keep sacking QBs into their 30s. Since 2000 there have been 31 players to register at least 15 sacks past age 32 and eight players who compiled 30-plus sacks in their twilight years. Julius Peppers managed 59.5 sacks after age 32.
It isn’t easy to replace an every-down defensive end who can create consistent pressure. It is even tougher to replace one who draws as much attention as Griffen. Opponents find it impossible to gameplan for both Griffen and left defensive end Danielle Hunter. They routinely chip him with running backs and double team him with tight end help, yet find him in the backfield over and over again. Per PFF data, opponents only double teamed Hunter on 20% of snaps when both players were on the field.
The price tag for this type of player is generally outrageously high but his age and history with the franchise could allow for a more reasonable deal that would carry a manageable cap hit in 2020.
The case for letting him hit the market
At some point the Vikings have to move onto the next chapter of their defense under Mike Zimmer. Players like Griffen, Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes were at the center of a No. 1 defense that led the Vikings to the NFC Championship in 2017 but the outlook for over-30s isn’t always rosy.
While players like Peppers and Cameron Wake continued to steamroll quarterbacks, many defensive ends have gone out quietly as their bodies eventually betrayed them. Griffen’s second half of 2019 was not as impressive as the blazing hot start to his season. After Week 10 he managed just one game that PFF graded above 70 (his overall grade for the season was 76.0).
The argument against keeping Griffen also isn’t just about Griffen. It’s about where the Vikings need to spend their cap space. Last year they ranked in the bottom five in pass blocking and on the defensive side they have two cornerbacks and a star safety set to hit the market too. If they spend even $5 million on Griffen, that’s $5 million that can’t go toward keeping Anthony Harris or signing an upgrade at left guard.
The Vikings have been drafting players and developing for this scenario for several years. Ifeadi Odenigbo had seven sacks and 26 pressures on 299 pass rush snaps last season. Add him to the mix with a cheaper free agent — possibly Stephen Weatherly — and the Vikings should be able to patchwork the right side while relying on Hunter to continue his superstar trajectory.
Few players have meant as much to the Vikings as Griffen over the last decade but the Vikings have put themselves in a position with the salary cap in which it carries a high degree of risk to spend big on an older player. If there is an older player who is worth it, however, it’s Griffen. If he wants to return at a reasonable price, it is worthwhile to have him. If he’s looking to maximize his dollars, 2019 might have been the final year of his Vikings tenure.