Shaquill Griffin Is Part Of Minnesota's Pattern Of Uncertainty

Photo Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings announced that they signed Shaquill Griffin, a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, to a one-year deal worth “up to” $6 million. In the process, they doubled tripled down on a player-acquisition philosophy that might begin to frustrate Vikings fans without more concrete results.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has been maniacal about finding value. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t taken big swings. The trade up into this year’s first round without a third-round pick presumably sets up another trade up for a quarterback in the draft, and the third-round pick is an absent asset because it was spent to bring T.J. Hockenson to the team.

On top of that, the Vikings grabbed the top cornerback on the market in 2023 with the signing of Byron Murphy Jr., and they weren’t shy about spending on Josh Oliver or Harrison Phillips.

But fans might remember the attempts to buy the dip. Sometimes this resulted in serious success; Za’Darius Smith was a coup, and Jordan Hicks was a steal. Free agency isn’t the only area where the Vikings attempted to buy value ahead of the market. Andrew Booth and Ed Ingram were a pair of second-round picks in Adofo-Mensah’s first draft who had significant concerns outside of their play that theoretically depressed their market.

Still, it’s free agency where this is best-remembered, particularly for its slumps. In executing an analytically sound strategy that feels hopeful, the Vikings pushed money into players like Dean Lowry, Marcus Davenport, Joejuan Williams, Albert Wilson, and more.

That didn’t represent a particularly enormous chunk of their budget, but these kinds of players – good for at least one year in the NFL but coming off a lousy year or injury that depressed their value – took up a surprising amount of roster space.

We’ve also seen that this year with players like Aaron Jones. To some extent, it’s true with Jonathan Greenard,  who’s coming off a good year but has injury concerns that may have hurt his market.

However, no one represents this approach more than Shaquill Griffin, who has logged one interception since 2020.

Griffin had played well enough in 2019 to be considered part of a revival of the Seattle secondary alongside current New York Jets cornerback D.J. Reed. Griffin’s Pro Bowl appearance was not only well-earned, but he repeated his high level of player in 2020, albeit without the All-Star nod.

Throughout those two years, Griffin ranked 10th in passes defended and, more importantly, also ranked 10th in the percentage of targets not deemed “open” by both ESPN’s tracking data and PFF’s charting.

He was just a good player, and the Jacksonville Jaguars recognized that when they signed him to a three-year, $40 million deal. That $13.3 million a year would be nearly the equivalent of Jaylon Johnson‘s deal with the Chicago Bears, a $19 million average annual value in the 2024 cap environment.

Griffin dropped from 10th to 54th in open rate on targets and doubled his penalty rate. Most interestingly, his ball-hawk rate – the rate at which he got his hands on the ball for either an interception or pass deflection – cratered. He went from ranking 25th to 72nd.

He didn’t perform too poorly from play to play, often showing up in the right spots. But the production that the Jaguars paid for wasn’t there. After an early back injury in 2022 – another example of a characteristic Vikings signing – Jacksonville put him on injured reserve, and he missed 12 games.

The Jaguars released Griffin as soon as they were able to by league rules, which feels unusual given that his play had fallen off but was not catastrophic. He signed with the Houston Texans for far less than his 2021 deal – just $3.5 million for the season. More intriguing is that the Texans didn’t keep Griffin around for long, cutting him after second-year corner Derek Stingley Jr. returned from injury.

Although he wasn’t playing in any games, it was surprising to see Houston eliminate depth at a valuable position, especially given that his salary demands were not exceptionally high and that the Texans guaranteed most of that contract.

The Carolina Panthers picked him up, played him for a few games, and then decided to move on. Two teams have cut Griffin in the last two offseasons, and a third team declined to pursue him in free agency. The final two decisions were for a low-cost player who was still producing above the level of a typical backup at the position.

Griffin only played in one game for the Panthers, but even when playing for the Texans, he wasn’t playing too poorly. His game-to-game performance was inconsistent, but no more so than most talented cornerbacks. Griffin allowed 1.13 yards per snap in coverage, which is fairly close to his career average, and he played in his preferred setup, off-coverage.

That preference may make him a good fit for Brian Flores’ system, one that emphasizes off-coverage and reactive zones – so reactive that opponents can often mistake it for man coverage. That’s not too dissimilar to his role in the press-zone scheme he played in Seattle.

Though the back injury will remain a concern for the rest of his career, his on-field speed looked as quick as ever. He runs every bit of that 4.38 he showcased at the NFL combine.

The Griffin signing is absolutely a low-risk, high-reward prospect with an enormous range of outcomes. He’s a classic Adofo-Mensah signing, and he represents a lot of unknowns. The unusual thing is that it’s hard to know what’s unknown about Griffin.

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