Pelissero: In Cedric Griffin's mind, he was done with Vikings for good
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One day after the Minnesota Vikings' season finale against Chicago, Cedric Griffin emptied his locker into the trash.
Four days after that, Griffin put his four-bedroom home on Eden Prairie's prestigious Parker Drive up for sale.
Just like that, Griffin was gone -- in his mind, for good.
"When he was leaving Minnesota," a source with knowledge of Griffin's thinking said this week, "he was leaving Minnesota with no anticipation of coming back."
That's why it was so surprising to hear Vikings coach Leslie Frazier express support for Griffin at last month's NFL scouting combine, saying he believes the 29-year-old cornerback is "in the right frame of mind" to rebound from a tumultuous 2011 season.
That's why it would be more surprising still for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman to give Griffin one more chance to justify a contract that is scheduled to pay him a $4.1 million base salary in 2012.
"In that Tampa-2, they have to play the technique and they have to play within the scheme," an AFC personnel director said. "You can get exposed if not. If there's an issue with (Griffin) not playing within the team concept and not staying disciplined, then that'll hurt you."
In truth, Griffin was gone long before Jan. 2, when he heaved six years of memories into a black garbage bag, pausing only to scribble down phone numbers of teammates he believed he might not see anytime soon.
He was gone in August, when he sparred with reporters who asked questions about his second knee reconstruction in a nine-month span.
He was gone in October, when he got caught with a single safety behind him, stumbled on a double move and missed a tackle on Dwayne Bowe's key touchdown at Kansas City.
He was gone in December, when months of pushback against technique and play calls culminated in a Dec. 11 benching at Detroit that lasted seven quarters and left Griffin fuming openly about continuing his career elsewhere.
"Ced was upset the way it went down," the source with knowledge of Griffin's thinking said. "He was hot. Then it just kind of went (downhill) from there."
Griffin returned to the starting lineup on Dec. 24 and was serviceable against Washington, then had one of his best games against the Bears -- performances Frazier said were proof Griffin "really had the right approach, and he played hard for us."
Still, something never seemed right with Griffin, and not just because the surgeries sapped so much explosion from a player who even at his peak was never special.
"I saw some speed deficiency there," the personnel director said. "He's got good instincts and he's physical, so you like those things about him. Plus, he's got good size. He's not one of those little guys like Asher Allen. But corners are a little bit like running backs -- when they start pushing 30, you start looking for younger."
For a rebuilding team that could be one of the NFL's youngest next season, what's the point of keeping around a declining veteran whose attitude and discipline were as much a problem last season as performance?
That surely is a question Spielman will raise on Saturday, when he meets with Frazier, vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski and ownership to finalize the team's plans for cuts and the start of free agency on Tuesday afternoon.
One theory is the Vikings might hold onto Griffin as an insurance policy until a verdict is reached in Chris Cook's trial on felony domestic assault charges. Losing both players would leave Allen and 35-year-old Antoine Winfield atop the depth chart, with inexperienced Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton behind them.
There will be opportunities for the Vikings to upgrade the position, though, with more than a handful of starting-caliber corners available in free agency, 10 selections in April's NFL Draft and a scheme that doesn't command blue-chip talent to be effective.
"That's kind of the beauty of the Tampa-2," an NFL personnel executive said. "If you manage the cap, traditionally speaking, you really don't spend a lot of high-level resources at corner or in the secondary. You just need solid guys."
In March 2009, Griffin was solid enough the Vikings gave him a five-year, $25.5 million contract extension.
Three years, two surgeries and one major falling out later, Griffin appears to be approaching the end -- at least with the Vikings, who drafted him in the second round (48th overall) out of Texas in 2006 and stuck with him through a 2009 drunk-driving arrest as well as the injuries.
"He was coming off of a major knee surgery a year ago," Frazier said last month, "and sometimes guys need a year under their belt before they can really get back to (production) they had before. It remains to be seen if he's one of those guys."
It might seem unfair to give Cook another shot while Griffin is shown the door, but in the NFL, there's always a marketplace for ascending players.
The rest hang on as long as they can, and saying goodbye to a team before it does the same to you is one way to make sure you're gone for good.