Should Minnesota bring back Everson Griffin?
By: Chris Thomas
Coming into the 2021-22 NFL season the Minnesota Vikings are one of the leagues most interesting teams. The Vikings are loaded with elite talent across their roster, but are seen as a middle of the pack team due to average quarterback play and inexperience at a few key positions.
Last offseason Minnesota decided to rebuild their aging defense by letting go former Pro Bowler’s and replace them with high draft picks. If the Vikings defense can take a leap forward in 2021 they can return to the playoffs.
Their offense is loaded enough to carry them to 7 or 8 wins if they remain healthy. But if the offense disappoints they very well be picking within or close to the top-10 in next years draft.
One of the ways Minnesota can ensure they stay competitive next season is by bringing in a veteran or two that is still available in free agency to ensure they do not have any major holes on their roster. Here are the remaining free agents the Minnesota Vikings should try to sign before training camp.
Dede Westbrook, Wide Receiver
It has been a couple of seasons since the Minnesota Vikings offense has played a majority of their snaps with three receivers on the field. Minnesota’s offensive coordinators, under Mike Zimmer, primarily use two tight ends set for their base offense. However that could likely change this season under new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak. Especially since Kyle Rudolph is no longer on the team and Irv Smith Jr. is the only major receiving threat at tight end, it seems Minnesota could go in that direction.
Earlier this month it was reported by ESPN’s Josina Anderson that the Vikings could still look for a third wide receiver. She reported that former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook could be a target for Minnesota.
At this point of free agency Westbrook is arguably the most talented receiver on the market. He fits exactly what the Vikings wide receiver room is missing. They are missing another deep threat that could stretch the field from the slot. Signing Westbrook will likely move 2020 First Round pick, Pro Bowler, and Second Team All-Pro Justin Jefferson to the outside permanently opposite Adam Thielen.
When Westbrook was a focal point in Jacksonville he was a reliable deep threat. However after adding multiple receivers to their roster in recent years he was phased out of the Jaguars offense and down the depth chart.
Minnesota did draft Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the fifth round out of Minnesota to potentially fill that void. However there is a good chance Smith-Marsette will not be ready to have that large of a role in year one. Westbrook has a similar skillset to Smith-Marsette and could serve as a bridge for the third receiver position on offense until next season. If Westbrook can land in Minnesota and carve out a role for their offense he could take the Vikings offense to the next level and push them over the edge.
Everson Griffen, Defensive End
A blast from the past may be what Minnesota needs on defense in order to make sure their performance from last season appears to be a fluke. One of Minnesota’s major voids on their roster currently is edge rusher opposite Danielle Hunter. The Vikings did select two edge rushers in the middle rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. They took Patrick Jones II out of Pittsburgh with the 90th overall pick in the third round and Janarius Robinson with the 134th overall pick in the fourth round.
Minnesota is hoping that Jones could be their long term answer at defensive end opposite Hunter and that Robinson could serve as a developmental pass rush specialist. But realistically neither will be able to able to meet those expectations in year one. It may be in the Vikings best interest to bring in another veteran to split time with Stephen Weatherly and Patrick Jones next season.
The Vikings brought back Weatherly who spent last season with the Carolina Panthers after four seasons in Minnesota. But he has not shown that he can be any more than a backup at this point of his career. Minnesota should consider another reunion at defense end and bring back former Pro Bowler and All-Pro Everson Griffen.
Last offseason the Vikings cut Griffen after a slight decline in play and because of his massive cap hit. Both sides considered a reunion, but ultimately Griffen ended up signing with the Dallas Cowboys. However once Dallas’ season started to go south they traded him to the Detroit Lions. He was primarily a rotational pass rusher with both teams but ended the season with 5.5 sacks despite playing 56.4% of the snaps during the games he was active for Dallas and 48.6% of the snaps during his time in Detroit. If Griffen can replicate that kind of production off that type of production in Minnesota he would put up better numbers than Weatherly’s career high.
Griffen has familiarity playing for this defensive scheme having spent six years playing under Mike Zimmer. During his last season in Minnesota he was a Pro Bowler and had eight sacks. He also showed last season he would be willing to return to the Vikings. If that feeling hasn’t changed, Minnesota should consider bringing in Griffen on a cheaper one year deal to be their primary edge rusher in a rotation that would feature Stephen Weatherly and Patrick Jones II next year.
Tyler Eifert, Tight End
One of the largest losses the Minnesota Vikings had this past offseason was former Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings took Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft after his final season at Notre Dame. He has been one of the most consistent tight ends in the NFL over the past decade. At his best he was a top-10 tight end in the league, but overall he has been an outstanding blocker and dangerous red zone threat.
2019 Second Round pick Irv Smith Jr. is expected to take on the TE1 role in Minnesota this season after taking a leap in year two. But his skill set is vastly different from Rudolph. He is more of a pure receiver than a traditional tight end.
If the Vikings wanted to bring in a veteran with a similar skillset as Rudolph who could lineup at TE2 or TE3 they have the opportunity to sign another former member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Tyler Eifert. In 2013 Eifert was a first round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. Eifert’s largest issue during his career has been his inability to stay healthy. He has been solid when he has been on the field during his career and was exceptional during his Pro Bowl season in 2015.
At this point of his career Eifert is nothing more than a teams second tight end. His skillset matches what they lost in Rudolph. Eifert is a better pass catcher than the Vikings current second tight end Tyler Conklin who is primarily used as a blocker. He could be a big body the Vikings use as a threat in the red zone and another tight end they bring in to block in running situations.
Geron Christian, Offensive Tackle
Minnesota hopes they have found their long term answer at left tackle in 2021 first round pick Christian Darrisaw. The Vikings have been trying to fill that void for a couple of seasons through the middle rounds of the draft. But most of those players transition to other positions along the offensive line. After selecting Darrisaw the Vikings could still use an upgrade at swing tackle. Behind Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill are Rashod Hill and 2019 sixth round pick Olisaemeka Udoh.
The Vikings should take a flier on one of the tackles the Washington Football team let go of last week Geron Christian. Washington drafted Christian in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. His role was to be a swing tackle that could develop into a starter at either side. But after eight career starts in Washington, it became clear he was not their long term starter at left tackle.
Christian still has a higher upside than the Vikings current backup options. Minnesota should bring him in to compete and earn his role as the teams swing tackle. That swing tackle position is important in Minnesota because they overall lack the depth to replace one of their starters if they were to go down with a long term injury.
Zane Gonzalez, Kicker
It appears that the Dan Bailey experiment is over in Minnesota and that they are going to go with Greg Joseph as their starting kicker going into the 2021 NFL season. But Minnesota should explore the option of brining in another veteran kicker to compete with Joseph for the job. Joseph has not been great so far in his NFL career. After a solid 2018-19 with the Cleveland Browns, Joseph landed with the Tennesee Titans late in 2019-20 and was only trusted to make on field goal in two regular season games and three playoff games. However he was 18/18 on his extra point attempts during that span. He spent last season primarily as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad.
An interesting veteran Minnesota could bring in to compete with Joseph is former Arizona Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez. The Cardinals let go of Gonzalez when they brought in Matt Prater. But Gonzalez was a solid kicker for Arizona last season. He was 16/22 on field goal attempts and 38/39 on extra point attempts. At the young age of 26, Gonzalez could potentially win the Vikings kicking job and run with it for a long time if he puts up his 2019-20 production consistently.