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Updated: December 5th, 2011 3:28pm
Vikings have little choice but to continue playing Cedric Griffin

Vikings have little choice but to continue playing Cedric Griffin

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Cedric Griffin is the only member of the Minnesota Vikings' starting secondary from Week 1 to play in all 12 games this season.

He has started 11 times and that figure would be a dozen if he hadn't been benched for the opening series of the Vikings' game against Arizona on Oct. 9 for disciplinary reasons.

That is somewhat remarkable considering Griffin had reconstructive surgery on the anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees over the past two seasons.

Unfortunately for Griffin, his continued presence on the field hasn't been because of his performance but rather because the Vikings have no other viable options to replace him as their starting right corner.

Leslie Frazier said as much during his press conference Monday, a day after the coach expressed disappointment with the secondary's play in a 35-32 loss to the Denver Broncos.

"He's not the Cedric we saw before the second ACL injury and he's tried to battle through some things," Frazier said. "But his confidence level has not been where it needs to be to be able to play at a high level in our league.

"I'm sure it has a lot to do with coming off a second ACL. We're just so depleted depth-wise that we have to have him out there. I know he'd like to play better. I know he's trying to play better. It's been a tough year for him."

Frazier, in fact, did lift Griffin late in Sunday's game, playing Benny Sapp and rookie Brandon Burton in the base defense for a snap with 3:06 remaining. The Vikings had to go to their nickel package on the next play, forcing the Vikings to put Griffin back in the game.

Injuries at cornerback have sidelined Antoine Winfield (collarbone) for the season and Asher Allen missed Sunday's game because of a shoulder injury suffered the previous week in Atlanta.

Sapp, who was signed last month as a "street" free agent, has been given extensive playing time and  Burton, a fifth-round selection, was seeing his first action at the corner position on Sunday.

Griffin tore his left ACL in the 2009 NFC title game at New Orleans while covering a kickoff to start overtime. He managed to return from that injury by Week 3 of last season but tore his right ACL in his second game back against the New York Jets.

Griffin again went through the rehab process and returned in training camp but he hasn't been the same player. A physical corner in coverage, any speed that Griffin once possessed seems to be gone.

This puts the Vikings in a difficult situation.

Griffin, who has seven career interceptions but hasn't had one since 2009, signed a $28.5 million, five-year contract extension in March 2009 that included $10.5 million in guarantees.

It remains unclear what the future holds for Griffin, who was a second-round pick by the Vikings in 2006 out of Texas.

Griffin is making a base salary of $3.35 million this season and that figure is due to increase to $4.1 million in 2012, $4.85 million in 2013 and $5.45 million in 2014.

Griffin's contract also contains $50,000 in workout bonuses for each year.

Unless the Vikings feel this offseason will give Griffin time to regain his diminished skills it seems unlikely he will be with the team in 2012, provided a suitable replacement can be found.

So how does Griffin feel about this?

He has declined intervirew requests for several weeks - the last known time he talked was on Oct. 2 after the Vikings' 22-17 loss in Kansas City - and that continued Monday.

Griffin did make an appearance in the locker room but said he wasn't talking. When asked if he had seen Frazier's comments, Griffin said: "I didn't see it. Thank you so much."

Tom Pelissero contributed.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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