Free Agency

2014 NFL Free Agency: Minnesota Vikings Re-Sign Everson Griffen, Huge for Griffen and Minnesota in More Ways than One

The Minnesota Vikings have inked their current defensive end Everson Griffen to a new, “huge,” 5-year deal according to Ian Rapaport.

This is obviously enormously good news for Everson Griffen, and I think it should be said good news for the Minnesota Vikings. Despite the fact that the contract might be large, the Vikings may have gotten away with a lot in signing Griffen to a relatively long-term deal, with a high guaranteed salary and an average of $8.5 million.

With this signing, a few dominoes fall, as well. This makes it massively unlikely that the Vikings pursue or sign Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, and also resolves some of the issues with the 2014 NFL draft, pushing defensive end further down the needs chart.

The bigger story is what this means for Griffen, both on and off the field.

In the past two years, Everson Griffen has come into his own in a big way, and left USC in 2009 for the 2010 NFL draft with massive emotional maturity issues. Scouting reports across the board pegged him as high-second, low-first round pick, but he fell to the Vikings in the fourth because of poor interviews and questionable competitiveness.

At USC, his freshman year, Griffen got into a fight with a veteran defensive end on the squad, and had been involved in a number of off-field fights, though no charges were ever filed against him. He also had been involved in a few incidents of disturbing the peace as well. Consistently, there were questions about his drive and inconsistency on the field, and despite good play against the run and the pass at USC, he couldn’t convince NFL teams to take him early.

In 2011, Griffen had been arrested twice in three days and tasered by police after grabbing an officer in the groin. He incurred a felony charge for battery. A few days later, held a party in Las Vegas for USC football players—a party that USC banned its players from attending.

It’s difficult to tell when Griffen turned a corner; it may have been the fact that he was nearly cut by the Vikings for his offseason antics in 2011 or the fact that he was suddenly confronted with the tragic death of his mother in 2012 during the season. Beat reporters have remarked on the fact that Griffen had seem a little more reserved since then and that trying year probably changed Griffen in a big way.

The next January also saw Griffen become a father to Grayson Scott Griffen (his mother’s name was Sabrina Scott) with his fiancee.

It could be any one of those three events, a combination or include a different set of events that may have changed Griffen’s outlook on life, but it is clear that the young defensive end had matured and grown into his own. The fact that the Vikings were willing to sign him to a long deal proves that they believe in his maturity as well, particularly with his high salary and guaranteed money.

In the past two seasons, Everson Griffen ranks 17th of the 50 4-3 defensive ends who have rushed the passer at least 350 times at the DE position (as opposed to LB or DT) in Pro Football Focus’ Pass Rusher Productivity metric, which not only adds sacks, but weighs hits and hurries, too. In just pressures per snap, he also ranks 17th, which implies that his production so far has been sustainable.

That means that his numbers on a per-snap basis beat out Jared Allen, Cliff Avril, Michael Johnson and Rob Ninkovich and are extremely similar to Lamarr Houston. Brian Robison ranks 14th in both metrics. If they only ranked rushers who have had 750 pass-rushing snaps, Griffen would rank 13th in both categories while Robison would rank 11th (out of 27).

After an excellent 2012 where Griffen notched 8 sacks, 2013 saw his numbers go down a bit, in part due to natural regression (his eight sacks were unsustainably high, given that he only rushed the passer 400 times and had fewer hurries than you’d expect) but also because opponents were getting rid of the ball a little quicker (his total pressures increased, but his hits and sacks went down). His Pass Rusher Productivity increased despite fewer sacks.

Remember, disruption is production.

Griffen gets a bad rap as a run-stopper, but that’s not fair either. Mostly he gets this reputation as a pass-rushing specialist on Minnesota’s nickel-downs, but he’s been stout stopping the run the last two years and rarely misses a tackle or drops his contain/force assignments. In the past two years, he’s missed four tackles with 49 made tackles to his name (7.5%). Jared Allen has missed 8 with 76 made tackles (9.5%) and Brian Robison has missed 8 tackles with 65 made tackles (12.5%).

More than that, Griffen had a reputation as a stout run defender at USC to go along with his pass-rushing adeptness and led all Minnesota defensive ends in “run stop percentage,” a measure that figures out how many tackles in the run game constitute offensive “failures.” This means he functionally led Vikings DEs in effective “tackles for loss” per opportunity in the run game.

The potential and production is there for Griffen to be a complete defensive end, and despite the big numbers may already be a steal for Minnesota.

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  1. Good article Arif. I am sure Zimmer will get more out of him also. I agree, this could actually be a bargain for the Vikes

  2. Your old Pal likes the move. Griffen has plenty of upside and potential. The downside is that the has plenty of potential and by now we really shouldn’t be talking about potential, we should be talking about how great he is. The Vike stepped up and gave Everette his money, now it’s time to see results. Bring it Griffen.

    He certainly has the ability, let’s hope the Vikings put this guy in one position and let him play instead of trying him at linebacker, then defensive end, then inside.

    As an aside, best of luck to the “calf roper”, hope he does well elsewhere. Freds enjoyed him while he wore Purple.

    1. I’d be a little less annoyed at the “potential” talk. He’s proven he has ability, not just potential. He produces when he’s on the field.

      1. I’m sure you’d agree that until we see him start a full year as a regular starter, we don’t know if he is capable of holding up and producing the same per snap stats. We need to be careful to assume a part time player will be the same guy as a starter. We can hope, but coming in fresh off the bench against worn out offensive lineman will not be the same as playing tired late in the 4th quarter and producing the same type of stats per snap.

        As Freds said earlier, I like the move but as the old saying goes….There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics ( this saying applies to extrapolated data, not the author of the article!)

        Until we see it work full time, it’s still potential!

        Freds thinks Griff has the potential to be great, let’s hope his potential flourishes as a full time player.

        1. I agree that his per-snap stats aren’t necessarily easy to replicate through “full snaps,” but he took 717 snaps last year! A lot of them at a more punishing DT position. 717 snaps is about 100 less than the average 4-3 DE starter. It’s not a huge leap, and there’s nothing special about starter snaps vs. other types of snaps. He wasn’t quite coming off the bench against worn out linemen, unless they were worn out within two or three snaps of play; he came in very early into a lot of games and produced.

          That said, you’re right that projection is dangerous, but that and film study are the only markers we have of future potential, and both point to a bright future. For now it’s a pretty good deal and I think the durability concerns are a little overblown given the heavy, heavy rotation he’s been in in the past two years.

  3. Sounds A lot like Vontez Burfect in Arizona State. Zimmer will get this guy locked in.

  4. I’m not sure he’s earned that kind of money yet. Seems that they’re paying a lot on potential. Zim must have liked what he saw so we’ll have to trust his judgment. Would have loved to get Johnson but his price must have been too high.

    1. I am sure of it, because he’s had over 800 pass-rushing snaps in the past two years, that’s the 22nd-most of all 4-3 DEs in that same time period. In that time, he’s produced more than most DEs have, despite being asked to participate as a DT and occasionally LB. He produces a high number of pressures per snap and will produce more as a dedicated player instead of rotationall.

      1. I’ll take your word for it Arif. You study the film and stats more than anybody I know. Now what’s your take on Brinkley?

    2. It’s hard to say what the real contract #’s are on this. The $20 million guaranteed is more important than the $42 base value they are reporting. I bet Johnson was looking for a lot more than this, and I have a feeling that Everson is going to be extremely productive in this scheme and that re-signing him was the smarter move. I don’t really understand the Brinkley signing, to me he has the same question marks as all the other LB’s on our team. Hopefully that will be a vet-minimum type deal. If they gave him anything significant in guarantee’s I’ll be a bit disappointed. Atleast he was released so he doesn’t count in our comp pick formulas next year. He’s still young and can be a thumper on 1st and 2nd down.

  5. I am real curious about the Jasper Brinkley signing. Wonder what Zim sees in him?

  6. My guess is Zimmer was measuring a combination of factors. He knew what Johnson had, what he was asking and what it would take to get him here. They decided on Griffen. It’s not disappointing but 8.5 is high. It is nice to have that settled.

  7. Okay, check off DE on the list. What is next? CB, LB, S, OG? I have a feeling that with the money thet probably saved with Griffen that they might make a hard run for Verner.

  8. That’s a lotta dough! Come on Griff, we’re countin’ on ya now!

    I’m with ya Norse…Verner! Also I think a big fat dude to play NT is in the works, either Soliai, or Jones…or maybe the guy from the Giants…Joseph. Had to look it up

    Wonder if it’s a hard sell to get guys here, with us playing outdoors now….

  9. Yeah CC I was going to put NT in there either before or after LB. I read that Verner has already decided but won’t leak which team. Reading the tea leaves I’m afraid it’s the Jets. Grrr

    1. If he goes to the Jets than who does leave for the Vikes to target? Carroll from the Fins?

    2. With them releasing Cromartie…could be. Put those tea leaves down Johnny!
      Norse, I guess that would free up Cromartie…but he is 30. I wouldn’t do it. Talib?

  10. EG currently ranks 1st in MN defense ‘s salary [Chad Greenway is 2nd at 8.2M]? So EG should be the focal point of our defense????