While he was training for his 12th NFL season in hopes of landing a job for training camp, Everson Griffen bided his time near Lake Minnetonka, "just a dad at heart."
Between workouts, he would coach his 8-year-old son's football team, take boat trips with his family and drive his kids to different activities. "Just my normal routine," he said. "Taking naps here and there, working out and enjoying life."
Last week, the call he had wanted from the Vikings finally came, about a workout at the team's practice facility on Wednesday. That led to a long conversation between the four-time Pro Bowl selection and the team's decisionmakers, and on Monday, he got his opportunity to return to the team he said "feels like home."
The Vikings signed Griffen on Monday in a effort to bolster their pass rush, bringing back the defensive end that ranks fourth in team history in official sacks with 74½.
"Honestly, I wanted to be here. I really wanted to be here," he said. "I felt like this was the best fit for me throughout the whole league. I really wanted to be here and I'm excited to be back. I'm just happy that things worked out the way they did and they welcomed me back with open arms."
He could step into a battle for the starting right end spot with Stephen Weatherly and D.J. Wonnum as the Vikings try to find a productive option at defensive end opposite Danielle Hunter, though coach Mike Zimmer said either Weatherly or Wonnum would be the starter and Griffen would be a situational player.
"We kind of watched him [last year] but we weren't studying him. But he had six sacks," Zimmer said. "I think the way we rush would be more beneficial to him than the way he tried to do it last year. I think he probably recognizes that, as well."
Griffen opted out of his deal after the 2019 season. He had an offer to return to the Vikings before 2020, though he chose a one-year deal with Dallas and later faced the Vikings when he was traded to Detroit.
That meant moving his family three times — to Texas, then to Michigan and back to Minnesota for the offseason — during a pandemic. In the end, Griffen said, he realized he should have never left.
"I left because I thought the grass was greener on the other side, to be honest, and it wasn't," he said. "Going to Dallas, going to Detroit, the grass wasn't greener. I didn't get the love that I got here with the fans, with the coaches, with the players and the grass wasn't greener. I learned I'm back home and I'm happy to be home."
The process of getting there, though, demanded some frank conversations and might still require one more.
“I'm just going to talk to Kirk and apologize to him and have a man-to-man conversation and we're going to leave it like that.”
Last season, Griffen reacted sharply to Zimmer calling him a "good player," saying he deserved to be referred to in higher terms before the Lions' first matchup with the Vikings.
Days after the Vikings beat the Lions in the season finale, Griffen returned to the Twin Cities for the offseason and started talking about a return. But he also issued a series of critical tweets toward Kirk Cousins, suggesting Zimmer hadn't wanted the quarterback when the Vikings signed him in 2018. Griffen later apologized and deleted the tweets.
Zimmer said the Vikings had a long conversation with Griffen after he worked out Wednesday. The defensive end, who left the team for five games during the 2018 season to deal with mental health issues, said the team wanted to make sure "my head was in it. That I'm in a good place. Of course that's first and foremost. I think football will always take care of itself, and just know my role. If they want me [as] a situational player, I can do that. Wherever they want me, I can do it.
Said Zimmer: "I think it seems he's in a good place. You know, hopefully he continues to do that, and if he does, he can help us."
The defensive end said Monday he hadn't talked to Cousins yet, but "I'm going to get around to that. Apologize to him, apologize to Coach Zimmer, Rick [Spielman] about what I said. I take full ownership in that. I've still got to talk to Kirk and apologize to him about that. I'm just going to talk to Kirk and apologize to him and have a man-to-man conversation and we're going to leave it like that."
On Monday, he practiced wearing a No. 58 jersey without a nameplate, with Michael Pierce wearing Griffen's old No. 97. The number switch, he conceded was a bit strange, though Griffen said Pierce offered to give the number back to him.
The three weeks he has before the season, Griffen said, are enough for him to re-learn the Vikings defense and make a contribution to a unit that still has plenty of players he has known for years.
"Being back with Coach Dre, I love his drills. I never lost his technique," Griffen said, referring to assistant head coach Andre Patterson. "It's really good to see Danielle [Hunter]. I missed Danielle. I miss the guys that I watched grow up and to see the player that he is, he looks like Superman still. I'm right next to him in the locker room. It's just good catching up with him and seeing him. I'm excited to be back."