It’s hilarious to hear one grown man describe another grown man as “his binky,” but that’s exactly what Minnesota Vikings co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson called everyone’s favorite prodigal son Everson Griffen last week. Compounding that humor is that Griffen has a notoriously bottomless source of energy at his disposal. He’d wear out the Energizer Bunny. He gives Red Bull wings.
He’s hardly a pacifier. But that’s how Patterson described Griffen, who left the Vikings during a contract dispute last year and split the season between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.
“It was like having my binky back,” Patterson said. “Very comfortable with him, and he’s very comfortable with me.
“It’s just amazing the recall he had with the drills that we do, and how he can do them full speed and execute them correctly after being a year away. I guess you can do that when you’ve been doing the same thing for seven years.”
Griffen maintains a residence in Minnesota, and Patterson is elated to see him come home. The Sack Daddy is not only “his binky,” but “his Picasso,” a work of art Patterson took years to perfect. Griffen was an unrefined talent when he was drafted in the fourth round out of USC in 2010, and Patterson turned him into a superstar after he was hired by the Vikings in 2014. For Patterson to see Griffen in silver and blue last year was like watching his masterpiece get smeared.
“I watched him play through the season last year because of my relationship with him. And I told him it hurt my heart,” he said. “You paint a Picasso, right, and somebody else copies it and messes it up? It hurts you to the core of your body.”
Conversely, Mike Zimmer has been less effusive in his praise of Griffen. On the day he signed, Zimmer was terse when asked about Griffen, only confirming his arrival and stating that Griffen will be a rotational player. At a press conference a week before that, when a late-arriving reporter asked if Zimmer had been asked whether Griffen was at the TCO Performance Center working out for the team, Zimmer said “No” and left the podium. He made the move in jest, but it was clear that it wasn’t something Zimmer wanted to get into that day.
He has since elaborated on the Griffen signing, and it’s not as though he didn’t check off on it. But he’s not the advocate that Patterson is.
Look, things got weird last year. As much as Griffen was playing for an NFC North rival for half the season and he’s not the first player to air some locker room secrets after leaving a club, his decision to call Cousins “ass” on Twitter and suggest that Rick Spielman, not Zimmer, wanted Cousins was taboo. Most players will refrain from dumping on their former team if only to avoid creating bulleting board material and damaging relationships. It was not the smartest move for a guy like Griffen, who’s on the wrong side of 30 and maintains a residence near Lake Minnetonka, to go after a maligned quarterback like Cousins.
Griffen had to know that the Vikings would be one of his only options if he wanted to stay in the league. The Cowboys ended up trading him, and the Lions didn’t commit to him beyond this season. He’d probably rather play in the city he calls home than anywhere else, and he knows he’s a fit in Minnesota’s defensive scheme.
Calling out Cousins was a short-sighted move, but it kinda fits who Griffen is. His id-driven, hyperactive personality has endeared him to fans and (some) coaches. He brings a lot of (mostly) positive energy to the locker room and an unbridled passion onto the field. It’s what’s made him great enough to play in the league for 12 years, but it’s also made things a little weird with his coach and quarterback.
Everybody knows that Teddy Bridgewater was Zimmer’s guy, and most fans have surmised that Zimmer has more of a business than a familial relationship with Cousins. Bridgewater was like a son to Zimmer; Cousins is a relative he took in out of a sense of obligation. But it means something different when a former player, especially one on an opposing team, essentially confirms what everyone was thinking.
Zimmer’s a no-nonsense coach and probably doesn’t make this move if he doesn’t get a full-fledged endorsement from Patterson. And while Zimmer and Patterson may not see eye-to-eye on everything, you’ve got to think that they have a pretty similar philosophy about football. Both are older men who love defense and likely think it’s the foundation to not only building a winning team but advancing in the playoffs. Griffen is a star who previously spent 10 seasons in Minnesota and would probably be welcomed with open arms by both parties under normal circumstances. His tweets jeopardized that, though.
Give Zimmer this: He has a reputation for butting heads with his assistant coaches, going back to his fallout with Norv Turner, but this is a case where he appears to be leaning on a trusted assistant.
In some ways, the Vikings have become a family business. Adam Zimmer shares the defensive coordinator duties with Patterson, and Klint Kubiak was named the offensive coordinator this year. This isn’t uncommon among tenured coaches in the NFL; look no further than who Bill Belichick has coaching his safeties and outside linebackers. But in some ways, Patterson feels like family to the Zimmer. He’s like the cool uncle who shows up at the holidays bearing egg nog and blitz packages. That kind of connection cannot be discounted, especially in a season where Zimmer is under pressure to win now.
The Griffen reunion appears to be Patterson’s call. At the very least, he seems to be Griffen’s biggest advocate in the organization. Patterson has earned Zimmer’s trust, and the ace assistant coach seems to be overwhelmingly thankful that he has a veteran player on a defense that has Danielle Hunter coming off of injury and plenty of unproven players who need to step up this year.
Griffen may have burned some bridges last year, but he had an influential ally in the coaching ranks, and it was enough to bring the Sack Daddy home.