A Revitalized Everson Griffen Is Fueling the Vikings’ Defense

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

Commonly referred to by Minnesota Vikings fans as the “Sack Daddy,” Everson Griffen was the energy source of the Minnesota defense for nearly a decade before a brief departure last year. Mental health issues moved the emphasis away from Griffen’s on-the-field play near the end of his initial tenure and turned it towards his personal life. Griffen then had mild success with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys last season, but he was hardly the same player he was in Minnesota.

After settling the final remnants of Griffen’s off-the-field issues in 2018 — and some undisclosed defusing of his slanderous comments towards Kirk Cousins — it was the delight of many fans to see that Griffen was coming back this season one a 1-year, $1.075 million veteran minimum deal. There was some uncertainty. On the one hand, even a fraction of Griffen’s former play would be worth the veteran minimum. On the other, there were worries that Griffen’s bridge-burning history would take attention away from the team, and a subpar performance would take playing time away from promising rookie prospects.

Entering this season, the Vikings’ front office expected Griffen to be a veteran who could substitute in occasionally on third down. What they got was the fierce and ruthless Everson Griffen of the past, gunning for the opposing quarterback as a pivotal starting player.

Griffen has tallied four sacks in the five games he has played this year (he missed one due to a car accident with a deer that left him concussed). Four sacks are already nearing his total for the entirety of last season, where he accumulated six. Additionally, Griffen has a forced fumble already this year after failing to cause a turnover last season. Based on his statistics, Griffen is on pace to surpass a number of his career-high defensive statistics, even before factoring in the 17th game that will be played this year. Griffen is currently in the mix of top defensive ends in sacks and sack yards, with a number of his competitors being close to a decade younger than him.

Griffen meshes into the current defensive line because of their mutual need for revitalization. He needed a comeback after some mediocre play with the Cowboys and Lions, and the Vikings’ D-line needed to bounce back after a mediocre year with multiple players who weren’t ready to be starters. Seeing the defensive line transform from Ifeadi Odenigbo and a rotational right defensive end back to Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen was enough of a rejuvenation of the line. Adding Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson to the picture was a cherry on top.

Whether this resurgence is due to Griffen’s comfort with the Vikings after testing other pastures or coming back to the defensive scheme he’s known for most of his career, fans can be happy with him up to this point of the season. The value the Vikings are receiving from Griffen is as high as one could wish for, and his career legacy is back where it belongs.

While Griffen should feel proud of his play this year, a couple of other people are also grateful Griffen is rekindling his fire. Topping that list is Mike Zimmer, who was struggling to put together a solid defense after an uncharacteristic down year. What may have looked like a desperate off-season move is now turning into a genius re-acquisition. Hunter should also be excited about Griffen’s play. It takes some of the pressure off him and gives a boost to his performance as well. Lastly, the young defensive ends Patrick Jones II and D.J. Wonnum may be getting less playing time because of Griffen. Still, they can learn from his expertise and develop instead of being thrown into action right away.

Fans should be hoping that this early season performance is a long-term theme and not just a brief blast from the past. As the season continues, we can only hope that the aging Griffen stays healthy and doesn’t drop off too hard, physically and mentally. If the Vikings string together some wins, a player like Griffen could become vital in the postseason. He won’t crumble under the pressure of a playoff game and can bring the energy that a team needs after 17 weeks of grueling work.

There is a strong chance that Griffen hops on board for a similar situation next year as well. If he can maintain this level of play, the Vikings should not have a problem tossing a little signing bonus his way. He also knows that if the Vikings offer him the veteran minimum again, playing with a team you like yields more success than a team that sees you as disposable. Let’s look for Griffen to stay on the hype train and continue to play to the best of his ability. Vikings fans and Griffen should both love the idea of him finishing out his career in Minnesota as an all-time great Vikings player.

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