It’s no secret that the Minnesota Vikings pass rush was abysmal this season. Minnesota finished with the fourth worst pass rush, generating only 23 sacks the entire year. However embarrassing that stat might be, it only pales in comparison to the fact the 2020 Vikings sack leader was Yannick Ngakoue, who only played six games for the Vikings but managed to lead the team in sacks for the entire season despite being traded to the Baltimore Ravens during the bye week. By the end of the year, they were only able to get five pressures against a hobbled Drew Brees, who was recovering from 11 broken ribs.
For comparison, last year Minnesota finished fifth in the NFL in sacks with 48. I know most of this drop off in productivity from the front four can in part be attributed to the loss of superstar edge rusher Danielle Hunter for the season when he suffered a herniated disk. But just getting Hunter back won’t magically fix all of the problems that have made the defensive line largely ineffective this season. Head coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged this on Tuesday when he said: “A priority for me is that we continue to get more pass rushers.”
While some might say that the best way to add talent is through drafting a defensive end like Kwity Paye or Gregory Rousseau with the 14th pick, I believe in adding a veteran and team leader back into the locker room after his year away from the team.
Sure, this isn’t the same Everson Griffen who used to live in the opponent’s backfield and recorded a sack in each of the first eight weeks, but he still can hold value as a rotational pass rusher. This season, after failing to negotiate an extension after opting out of his contract, Griffen signed with the Dallas Cowboys, and he was traded to the Detroit Lions for a conditional sixth-round draft pick halfway through the season. Despite having to learn a new scheme and being dealt to another team this year, Griffen still managed to record six sacks and 33 pressures — more than any Vikings defensive lineman.
When Hunter returns next season, the Vikings can pair him up with Griffen again and work in reps for Ifeadi Odenigbo and D.J. Wonnum to help preserve Griffen at his advanced age. If Ifeadi can play like he did in 2019, where he totaled seven sacks in a rotational role, and if Wonnum shows the improvement we all expect to see in his second year, then Minnesota could potentially have a defensive line that runs four edge rushers deep.
This rotation of starting-caliber edge rushers is a formula the Philadelphia Eagles used in their championship season, and it’s the formula that the San Francisco 49ers used on their Super Bowl run. The luxury of having depth at this position allows you to keep throwing fresh edge rushers at offensive tackles, never letting them relax or get set.
Griffen would also deliver some much needed veteran leadership to the defensive line. He was a 10-year member of the Vikings and the longest-tenured player on the team before his departure last offseason. Fans will remember his pre-game speeches and his mantra, “Be Great.” We got an even deeper peek into his mind this season when Griffen said he felt “disrespected” by Zimmer when his former coach said Griffen was a good player and not a great player. The former captain can fill the same type of role Terence Newman filled, where he mentors young players while making savvy veteran plays.
Griffen’s addition would both help the defensive line and the secondary. Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney both showed improvement through the entire season despite quarterbacks having plenty of time to dissect the coverage they run. With Griffen and Hunter rushing the passer, opposing quarterbacks would have to make quicker reads, allowing Dantzler and Gladney to cover for a shorter amount of time.
Despite the whole “great” debacle between Zimmer and Griffen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in purple next season, just like how Shamar Stephen returned after one season with the Seattle Seahawks.
It seems like Griffen was expressing interest in returning to Minnesota when he tweeted this:
And had retweeted multiple tweets suggesting he comes back to the Vikings. Seeing Griffen play meaningful football in purple again would be special.