Zulgad: Everson Griffen may be Vikings' top DE target to re-sign
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Jared Allen and Brian Robison are both entering the final year of their contracts with the Minnesota Vikings and, barring injury, figure to start all 16 games at the right and left defensive end positions, respectively.
So which one of those ends is the Vikings' top target when it comes to working out a contract extension?
How about neither.
That designation might very well belong to backup Everson Griffen, who has gone from immature project to a future starter since arriving in Minnesota as a fourth-round pick in 2010.
Last season, Griffen finished third on the Vikings with eight sacks in 16 regular-season games and added another sack in the playoff loss at Green Bay. That put him four sacks behind Allen and a half-sack behind Robison.
Griffen saw regular action, but he only had one start. Allen, meanwhile, started all 16 games and Robison started all 15 in which he played.
"He can get to the quarterback, he's extremely talented, he rushes in different spots," Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said of Griffen. "Sometimes it's over a guard or a center and sometimes it's out wide.
"The quarterback can't quite hold the ball as long when he's rushing, so that helps the secondary, it helps the coverage, so all around. The good thing about Everson is he's not just a pass-defender, he's a complete end. So, in the run, too, he helps out a great deal."
Griffen is in the final year of a four-year, $2.33 million deal that would have been far bigger if he hadn't slipped in the draft become of concerns about his maturity that added up while he was playing college football at Southern Cal.
Griffen did nothing to help himself in January 2011 when he was arrested twice in a three-day span in the Los Angeles area. The first time was for public intoxication and the second was for felony battery of a police officer. Felony charges were not filed in the second case, but that didn't lessen the Vikings' concerns.
"It took time," Griffen said when asked about maturing. "I'm still growing right now. ... You try to mature for the rest of your life. Everybody does. I just try to keep on improving what I can do.
"Make sure I just focus on what I have to do and have that mindset to come out here and play football. This is my job, this is not my life. When I'm here I work on my job, than when I'm away I learn how to keep myself in the right focus to do what I've got to do to stay where I'm at."
Griffen showed a maturity on the football field in his second season, appearing to return to the Vikings in better shape physically. He also showed flashes of what he was capable of doing in 2011, playing in all 16 games and finishing fourth on the team with four sacks.
Coach Leslie Frazier thought enough of Griffen's athletic ability that he briefly used him at weak-side linebacker last summer during training camp.
But in a 4-3 defense, Griffen is a far more effective end and that's where he'll remain. The question is will he remain with the Vikings past this season?
Peter King of Sports Illustrated recently picked Griffen as his choice as a breakout defensive star this season. Griffen, meanwhile, feels it's only a matter of time before he carves out a more regular role for himself.
"One day I know I will be a starter in this league because I'm going to work hard and I feel that right now I am kind of like a starter," he said. "I work in with the (first team), we rotate. I think I've earned it and, like I told the guys, we can have the best d-line group in the NFL. We don't have any egos on the d-line, we just go and play together. That's what it's all about. So, a backup? No. I'm (a part of the) defensive line. We're a group."
The expectation that Griffen will soon be a starter is why the Vikings want to get something worked out with him sooner rather than later. Griffen said he hasn't been briefed on where contract negotiations stand but he does know that talks have started.
The Vikings have long tried to lock up young players that they like during the season before their deals expire.
"I would love to be a Minnesota Viking," said Griffen, who has a child with his fiancee. "My family is here, it's a good place to raise a family, it's a great organization. ... Hopefully, that can happen for me."
If that is to be the case, the Vikings are going to have to create a starting job for Griffen and also hope he doesn't reach the open market. That's because while Griffen has no interest in playing linebacker in a 4-3 scheme again, he is more than open to potentially being a pass-rushing linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
In fact, that opportunity intrigues him.
"I can do it all," he said. "I like being the guy where I can stand up, drop and rush. I don't want to be a (weak-side) linebacker. I'm a defensive lineman or an outside backer where I can roam around and do that stuff.
"(But) I'm not worried about my next year. I've got to worry about this year, focus on this year and what I have to do to put myself in the best position for my family."