MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings are losing another key member of their defense to free agency.
Defensive end Everson Griffen, who spent 10 seasons in Minnesota after being drafted by the franchise in the fourth round in 2010, said goodbye to the state and Vikings fans Friday via a post from his Instagram account.
“While it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye, I leave Minnesota in the best physical and mental shape I have ever been and have many Pro Bowl seasons to come!” the post read. “Wherever my next stop is, I will always be grateful to and cheering for the Vikings.”
Griffen, 32, voided the remaining three years on his contract (2020 through 2022) in February after he met two figures last season — tallying six or more sacks and playing 57% or more snaps. Many contracts automatically void once a player reaches a certain threshold; Griffen, however, was one of two players last season who had a player-controlled void written into his deal, sources told ESPN.
The move freed up $13.1 million in cap space for Minnesota in the weeks prior to free agency.
Last month at the NFL combine, coach Mike Zimmer made it clear that he wanted Griffen to return in 2020.
“Everson’s a terrific person for us,” Zimmer said. “I think our situation is the right one for him, and we expect him to be back. I think he wants to be back, so those kinds of things usually work their way out.”
Behind the scenes, several sources confirmed Zimmer’s sentiments about Griffen wanting to return to Minnesota but also said there were concerns related to the Vikings salary cap and finances that would force Griffen to look elsewhere instead of returning on another reduced salary, like he did in 2019. As of Friday, Minnesota has less than $7 million in available cap space.
Griffen, a four-time Pro Bowler, recorded 87 starts since moving from a rotational pass-rusher to full-time starter in 2014. Griffen registered eight sacks and 24 knockdowns in the 2019 season.
Griffen ranks fourth in franchise history with 74.5 sacks, reaching a career-high 13 during the 2017 season, which also marked his third straight Pro Bowl bid.
In September 2018, two incidents that drew police involvement prompted Griffen to step away from the game for five weeks while seeking treatment for his mental health and well-being. He returned in Week 8 that year, recording 4.5 of his 5.5 sacks from that point. Griffen took a $3 million pay cut to remain with the Vikings last season.
It’s unclear where Griffen is headed as a free agent, though his connection to Pete Carroll, his former coach at USC, and the possibility of the Seahawks not working out a long-term deal with Jadeveon Clowney, has raised speculation that he could end up in Seattle.
Griffen isn’t the only defensive staple departing from Minnesota as a free agent. Last week, the Vikings terminated the contracts of cornerback Xavier Rhodes and nose tackle Linval Joseph for cap purposes. Free-agent cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander agreed to new deals with Cincinnati this week.