Bringing back the Sack Daddy is one of the best Minnesota Vikings homecoming moments I can remember. I was a little too young to fully appreciate Randy Moss’ bummer of a return, and no notable players have reunited with the team until this season — let alone four of them at once.
The return of Sheldon Richardson, Mackensie Alexander, Stephen Weatherly, and Everson Griffen is a testament to the Vikings’ culture, despite a few questionable situations with Sharif Floyd’s (dropped) grievance against the team and Stefon Diggs’ departure. The fact is players like it here.
The defense had no clear vocal leader after Griffen’s departure. Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith are both quiet, humble players. Although Eric Kendricks seems to be the most extroverted player on the defense, he doesn’t come close to Griffen’s swagger.
This is especially important for this season. It’s a year in which the team invested heavily in the defensive line via free agency after all of the issues they had last year.
As it stands right now, Hunter is coming off a season-ending injury, Michael Pierce hasn’t suited up for the Vikings despite signing with the team before last season, Dalvin Tomlinson is a newcomer, and the left defensive end is a rotation of three to four situational players. The chemistry is likely not there yet, and bringing in a player who already knows the system and is used to playing across from Hunter is critical on the edge.
But don’t expect prime Griffen to return. He’s always been an honest guy, and he admitted, somewhat jokingly, I’m sure, that he was tired after his first day back in pads. It’s not entirely surprising, but it’s difficult to temper expectations when such a popular player returns home.
However, the stats are promising. Griffen still racked up six sacks in seven games with the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions, respectively. At 33, he remains a reliable rotational player. Griffen may not be the player he once was, but he’s still got that it-factor, that unfiltered character the defense desperately needs.
The D-line will be defined by its rotations around Hunter because of Minnesota’s volume of great defenders. Pierce and Tomlinson are both premier run-stoppers, and Richardson is one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league. He can even fill in at defensive end across from Hunter in certain packages.
Consider the entire stable of pass rushers around Griffen at defensive end. Weatherly and D.J. Wonnum are likely to take the lion’s share of the snaps early on, but Griffen could easily usurp their spot on the depth chart with just one of his classic explosive games. It’s safe to say he has the pieces around him to put together a stellar season for a seasoned vet like himself.
Griffen already has the respect of at least one of his new fellow linemen. Looks like 97 really is back in town.
Despite his missteps last year, it’s a great move bringing back the Sack Daddy, one of Hunter’s mentors. Don’t underestimate his ability to elevate his teammates and make plays off the edge.