INDIANAPOLIS – While Mike Zimmer anticipates turnover on the Vikings defense this offseason, he hopes to have defensive end Everson Griffen back for an 11th season in Minnesota.
“I feel our situation is best for him, and we’d like to keep him,” the Vikings coach said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. “Usually those things have a way of working out.”
Griffen, 32, exercised the option to void the final three years of his deal, making him a free agent for the first time. He had eight sacks and 66 pressures while re-establishing himself as a vocal leader a year after a five-game absence to undergo treatment for mental health issues.
The day after the team’s 27-10 loss to the 49ers in the NFC divisional playoffs, Griffen said, “I want to be a Viking for life, but it’s a business, so we’ll figure that out when the time gets here.”
The Vikings met with Griffen’s agent, Brian Murphy, in Indianapolis this week to discuss a potential re-signing. They have less than three weeks to negotiate before March 16, when other teams are allowed to enter formal talks with Griffen.
Griffen said Jan. 12 he envisioned playing another “three to four years.” His 10th NFL season showed Zimmer he has more in the tank.
“Especially early in the year,” Zimmer said. “As we’re going back through the [film] cut-ups and watching some of the pass things, he’s still a really good pass rusher. There’s that as far as on the field. Off the field, number one he’s got a great relationship with [co-defensive coordinator] Andre [Patterson]. He loves the guys here in the locker room, and I think he understands that we’re going to do the best for him all of the time.”
There are additional ways the Vikings can help Griffen on the field, according to Zimmer, who noted a better interior pass rush can minimize extra attention blockers give Griffen and Danielle Hunter.
The Vikings manufactured pass rush up the middle last season by moving defensive ends inside, including Griffen during the Jan. 5 playoff victory in New Orleans. But finding a full-time pass rusher at defensive tackle is an ongoing goal, according to Zimmer.
“You can manipulate that differently with the push, like what we did against [Drew] Brees in the playoff game,” Zimmer said. “We don’t always have to have those two guys on the end. Part of the reason we moved them was we thought that would be a good matchup, but our ends get chipped all the time. It’s very seldom they get one-on-one blocks.”
“We’re always looking for a three-technique pass rusher. There will never be a day where we don’t look for one and hope we find one, because they get good matchups, typically, on guards and then if you can get that guy on a good matchup, it helps the two ends, too.”
After the Vikings defense ranked fifth in scoring and 14th in yardage, there won’t be any drastic changes to the scheme, Zimmer said. He added there will be typical tweaks to fronts, pressures and coverages.
Should Griffen re-sign, the defensive line might not require much overhaul. Nose tackle Linval Joseph’s $12.8 million cap hit might be addressed. Defensive end Stephen Weatherly is set to be an unrestricted free agent March 18, but muddying his future are the Vikings’ plans to incorporate defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo more after his breakout season.
Zimmer will take all the pass rushers the Vikings can fit under their salary cap.
“If we can get a couple more,” Zimmer said, “that would be good, too.”