Vikings' priority in draft? Start with finding a cornerback
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On one side, the Vikings had veteran Antoine Winfield, who was having a down season because of a foot injury but nonetheless made his second Pro Bowl.
"At the corner opposite," the executive said, "they are weak."
This was more than a month before Griffin tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee -- a significant injury that has left his status iffy for the start of the 2010 season.
Now, with Winfield turning 33 this summer and no other starting-caliber players at the position, upgrading at cornerback has to rank among the Vikings' top priorities in next week's NFL draft.
Injured in the NFC championship game on Jan. 24, Griffin told the Star Tribune in February he expected to be recovered in six months. But even that optimistic -- and, depending whom you ask, dangerous -- timeline barely would have Griffin ready for the start of training camp on or around July 31.
Some teams mandate a minimum of nine months before resuming a full workload after ACL reconstruction because of concerns about reinjury. For Griffin, that'd be halfway through next season. And even if he returns sooner, there's no telling when the fifth-year pro will be at full speed.
A pro scout for an NFC team said last week that cornerback was the only glaring hole he saw on an otherwise deep and talented Vikings roster.
"You live with him until you find better," the scout said of Griffin, a former second-round pick (48th overall) who has started all but one game the past three seasons.
"I think he's an adequate starter, because he has made some plays. He's had his fair share of busts, too. At times, (it's a) you live with him, you die with him-type deal. (The ACL)'s going to be a huge concern."
Sapp has proven over six seasons he's instinctive and tough but physically overmatched as more than a nickel. Allen, a third-round pick last year, is a solid developmental prospect but lacks rare ability.
Considering how much NFL offenses are spreading out -- it's not uncommon for defenses to play 50 to 60 percent of snaps with at least one extra cornerback on the field -- there would be a clear case for adding depth even if Griffin were healthy.
"Winfield's not getting younger," said former Baltimore and Cleveland scout Daniel Jeremiah, who runs the scouting Web site movethesticks.com.
"They could really use a really good, solid No. 1 or No. 2 guy, an outside guy."
None of which means Griffin should be out of a job. The Vikings thought enough of him to lock him up before last season with a five-year extension through 2014 that could max out around $28 million.
According to a source with access to the contract, the deal was due to pay him $2 million in deferred 2009 base salary last month on top of $3.55 million in 2010 salary and bonuses. In 2011, Griffin is due another deferred signing bonus payment of $1.5 million in addition to $3.9 million in salary and bonuses, and his compensation only increases over the final three years of the deal, even if he doesn't hit yearly $500,000 escalators.
That's starter money, and it's worth wondering how much of it Griffin would see if the Vikings fall in love with a player such as, say, Virginia's Chris Cook and nab him with the No. 30 overall pick next week. This also is considered a deep class of corners, so help could be found in Rounds 2 or 3 as well.
It would be nothing short of shocking if the Vikings roll the dice on Griffin's recovery and pass on cornerbacks in this draft altogether. If anything, they might come out with a couple.
"With Cedric, you get size, toughness. You get somebody that's going to be a better zone corner than man corner," Jeremiah said. "But when you talk about where you've got to be now to get to the Super Bowl -- the passing teams, that's kind of the era that we're in -- if you want to get to where you want to be, you have to go through the elite quarterbacks and the elite passing offenses.
"In order to do that, you need to have some elite cover guys, and Cedric's not in that class."