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Griffen’s offseason was bigger than football: ‘I want to be a Viking for life’

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) reacts during a December 2018 game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. -- Everson Griffen could see it coming from a mile away.

After a down year on the field, and a tough one off it, the defensive end knew he was probably going to have to take pay cut if he wanted to stay with the Minnesota Vikings.

“I had a feeling,” Griffen said. “For me, it was bigger than football. I took it upon myself, and my family, to make the right decision to stay here because I want to be a Viking for life.”

That isn’t necessarily a guarantee.

Griffen carries a salary cap hit of roughly $7.93 million for 2019, according to Spotrac, a savings of nearly $3.81 million compared to his original salary cap hit. In all, he agreed to lower his base salary of $6.4 million and will receive a $1.031 million roster bonus, a $400,000 signing bonus, and a $100,000 workout bonus.

The Vikings can still turn around and cut him next offseason for less than $1 million in dead salary cap money.

“When I’m myself, I can play well,” Griffen, making his first public comments since restructuring his deal, told reporters Tuesday, April 16. “I wasn’t myself (last season). If I was myself, I wouldn’t have to take a pay cut -- if I was playing at the level I know I can play at each and every season. But I wasn’t.”

A three-time Pro Bowler, Griffen, 31, missed more than a month while addressing his mental health. He was hospitalized on Sept. 22 after being involved in several incidents that day, including one involving a threat to Hotel Ivy employees in downtown Minneapolis. He was not arrested, and Minnetrista police later helped him get to Fairview Hospital in Edina for observation.

He returned to the field for the Oct. 28 game against the New Orleans Saints and finished the season with 5 1/2 sacks in 11 games, his lowest total since becoming a full-time starter.

“I had a lot going on in my personal life,” Griffen said. “This was a big learning experience, and I dealt with some stuff. Now I’m comfortable, I’m happy, my family is happy, my kids are happy, and that’s what matters the most to me right now.”

A jovial man who can light up a room with his smile, Griffen said there were times last season he didn’t feel like himself. Coming to the field sometimes felt like a chore, something he needed to “get through.”

To help himself mend, Griffen said, he has been to “meetings on meetings on meetings” this offseason.

“It’s a progression each and every day,” he said. “Am I back to myself? Yeah. I’m back to smiling, joking, and (being) that fun guy to be around.”

Two days into the spring’s first organized team activities, his teammates feel the difference.

“We could tell that he’s enjoying it again,” veteran safety Harrison Smith said. “That’s a guy I’ve been around since I got drafted. Our lockers have always been really close, so I’ve learned a lot from him. Just really happy that he’s back with us.”

“You can see that he’s happy,” added end Danielle Hunter. “He’s back to the Everson he used to be. He was talking to us in the room today and you can just tell he’s back and he’s ready to rock and roll with us.”

Perhaps the biggest factor in Griffen agreeing to restructure his contract came from the loyalty the Vikings showed to him last season. The team played a large role in steering him toward help.

“They took care of me and they treated me like family,” Griffen said. “I’ve been here for 10 years, I’ve played good football for them, and I felt like they handled the situation that I was in perfectly. They took me under their wing. They made sure I had everything lined up. It was a good thing. I just want to repay that. It’s always bigger than football.”

Looking back on it now, Griffen knows it could’ve worked out differently. He knows the NFL can be “a cut-throat business.” Because of that, Griffen is grateful more than anything else.

“I just wanted to come back here and finish what I started,” he said. “It feels good to be back in this building, being a Viking and being around all my boys. I’m very blessed to be where I’m at right now.”