Heading into the 2014 season, there are few players that are going to be under more scrutiny than Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. Touted as the next big thing at defensive end, Griffen is emerging from the shadows and into the spotlight designed by the Vikings front office.
When the Vikings headed into the 2013 season, future Hall of Famer Jared Allen was entering the final year of the six-year contract he signed with the Vikings after being traded by Kansas City to Minnesota. There was no effort made to re-sign Allen or to adjust his 2013 salary cap number, which approached $17 million. Throughout the season, it became more and more apparent that the Vikings were going to allow Allen to leave, which would create a void at right defensive end that the Vikings haven't had in years.
Prior to the trade for Allen, the Vikings had struggled to get a consistent pass rush from their defensive ends. Despite using several premium draft picks on defensive ends, the success rate had been extremely low and production had been woefully minimal. The arrival of Allen invigorated the defensive front and helped transform it from a liability to a strength of the team.
The Vikings faced a lesser, yet similar situation in 2011. Ray Edwards had been the starter, but, as free agency approached, the Vikings made no effort to re-sign him. Instead, they offered a long-term contract to backup Brian Robison, who has been a productive starter ever since. Edwards was allowed to leave and signed an eight-figure contract with Atlanta and quickly washed out there – being released a year later and deemed a free agent flop.
The Vikings came under some scrutiny at the time for allowing a regular starter to leave and replacing him from within. Robison has more than lived up to the confidence the Vikings showed in him and has become one of the most consistent and productive members of the Vikings defense in the three seasons since.
The same is expected from Griffen, who has been a hybrid defensive lineman/linebacker situational player. His playing time has increased and the Vikings under the Leslie Frazier regime found ways to utilize Griffen in different ways. The plans are much bigger for him in 2014 with the Mike Zimmer coaching staff in place and the expectations are just as high.
It's never easy to replace a franchise-type player. The loss of Allen is going to be much more pronounced than when the team allowed Edwards to walk, so the pressure on Griffen will be as high or higher than it was on Robison when he was anointed a starter in 2011.
Did the Vikings make the right decision? Griffen is confident that he can reward the faith the Vikings showed in him. Some may be skeptical, but, then again, many of those same people were skeptical when Robison was handed a big contract and a starting job and he surpassed expectations. Maybe fans will have to give the Vikings a leap of faith before passing judgment, because the team has had a pretty good track record of making the right decisions on who to keep and who to allow to go away.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Vikings need Griffen to produce like Robison
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