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Updated: March 9th, 2014 11:11pm
Zulgad: Everson Griffen's new contract will come with great expectations

Zulgad: Everson Griffen's new contract will come with great expectations

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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See 'ya Jared. The pressure's on you, Everson.

While there was no official word from Winter Park on Sunday, that was the message that was delivered after reports surfaced the Vikings had informed Jared Allen they would make no attempt to retain him and that Everson Griffen had agreed to a five-year, $42.5 million deal that includes $20 million in guarantees.

Griffen, 26, has shown glimpses of his ability since being selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Vikings, but this investment speaks to the team's belief that the 6-foot-3, 273-pound end can become an essential part of the defense.

Griffen, who had been set to hit the free-agent market on Tuesday, had 5.5 sacks last season after recording a career-high eight in 2012. He has spent time at both end and rushing from the interior on passing downs.

The Vikings saw enough in Griffen that they experimented with playing him at outside linebacker during the preseason in 2012. It became obvious he wasn't comfortable in that role, but there remained the thought Griffen could excel if allowed to rush the quarterback from the linebacker spot in a 3-4 defense.

Griffen's eye lit up so much so when he was asked about this prospect in training camp last summer, that one had to wonder if he would look to jump to a team that employed the 3-4 in free agency.

So beyond the Vikings' willingness to give him a significant payday, why did Griffen decide to stay in Minnesota so quickly? One has to believe new coach Mike Zimmer was the primary reason.

Zimmer is getting his first opportunity as an NFL head coach, but his success as a defensive coordinator had to be a selling point for Griffen.

As for Zimmer, he clearly has watched enough film of Griffen to conclude that he will be a good fit in the defense and can play on every down. This will not be the Cover-2, Tampa-2 style the Vikings employed the past eight seasons and Griffen is probably thrilled about that.

One assumption we should not make is that Griffen is going to simply step into Allen's old role at right end.

Anyone who saw the Cincinnati Bengals defense under Zimmer knows that he can get creative. That means it won't be a surprise if Griffen is shifted around in order to keep opponents unsure of where he might line up next.

There also remains a chance the Vikings will land free-agent end Michael Johnson, who played for Zimmer in Cincinnati and will be in demand. If Johnson lands in Minnesota, the expectation would be he would start at right end, creating a real chance Griffen would see substantial playing time at different spots.   

Talent never has been the big issue when it comes to Griffen. He entered the 2010 draft ranked as the No. 3 defensive end by ESPN Scouts Inc. and as the 38th overall prospect available.

So why did he drop to the 100th pick?

The first concern regarding Griffen centered around his maturity and the second his consistency on the field.

The teams that passed on the USC product probably felt pretty good about their decision following the 2010 season. Griffen, who had no sacks and 11 tackles in 11 games as a rookie, was arrested twice in a three-day span in Los Angeles in January 2011.

Proving that Griffen didn't get it, he then tried to plan a Super Bowl party to Las Vegas that was halted by the NFL.

Griffen, though, hasn't had any off-the-field issues since that time.

Also, don't count on Zimmer getting rid of troubled players he thinks can help his team. Zimmer's defense in Cincinnati included cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who both have had off-the-field issues.

Griffen has played in every game the past three seasons and has 18.5 sacks in that time. This will mark the second consecutive year the Vikings have paid a substantial price to retain one of their defensive ends.

Last October, starting left end Brian Robison received a five-year, $32.4 million deal with $13 million in guarantees.

The fact Allen won't be back in purple should come as no surprise. CBS Sports reported that he has a list of fewer than five teams he's considering and the Vikings aren't among them.

This is a good time for the sides to part. The Vikings gave up a lot to get Allen from the Chiefs in 2008 and then rewarded him with a contract that made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league at the time.

The move was made at a point when the Vikings thought they could get to the Super Bowl and in 2009 they almost did. But Allen, who will turn 32 next month, has never been a free agent in his 10-year career and he now wants to find a team that is closer to contending than the Vikings.

The Vikings also need to move on by rebuilding a defense that will have a different scheme and far different personnel in 2014.

A guy like Griffen is the future. Allen is the past.

That means the pressure falls on former as the latter looks for one final big contract elsewhere.

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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