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Is Everson Griffen worth the rumored trade attention?

Recent trade rumours have linked the 49ers to veteran defensive end Everson Griffen. Time to consider how he can improve the 49ers’ defense.

San Francisco 49ers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

After the conclusion of the NFL Combine, rumors began to surface that the 49ers had begun preliminarily trade talks with the Vikings for defensive end Everson Griffen. It started as a one-off rumor, but Vikings media has been reporting for some time that the nine-year veteran was a candidate for some contractual gymnastics as the team sought to create additional cap space going into free agency.

Griffen’s contract situation gives the Vikings some flexibility to decide his future. His 2019 salary is guaranteed for injury, and becomes fully guaranteed if he is on the roster on March 15th — the third day of the new league year. If the Vikings release him before then, they would save $10.7 million in cap space while carrying just $1.2 million in dead money. With this option in the background, the Vikings have some time to attempt to re-structure Griffen’s contract or trade him to a team more capable of swallowing his large cap hit.

The Vikings’ attempts to re-structure Griffen’s deal have reportedly faltered, leaving them two options — trade or release. The March 15th deadline puts a significant amount of pressure on the Vikings to get a trade done before then, or they risk his significant salary becoming fully guaranteed on that date; thus making a release impossible and losing further leverage.

This is where the 49ers come in. Given the player appears to be on his way out of Minnesota, the 49ers will have to balance the risk-reward of giving up some of their own capital in return for securing Griffen instead of allowing him to hit free agency. Nevertheless, one would think the Vikings themselves would be extremely keen to get something in return for their three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, given they would not be in line to get a compensatory pick for him. The leverage appears to be with San Francisco here.

What does the film say?

It is clear Griffen would be a significant upgrade on the 49ers current options at LEO/nickel edge rusher. Only one year removed from a second team All-Pro selection, Griffen is an explosive, powerful and well-rounded threat off the edge who will be a disruptive force in both the running and passing games. Though he has dealt with injuries and undisclosed mental issues this past season, there should be little doubt that Griffen remains capable of being a decisive contributor in the NFL.

As a pass rusher, Griffen demonstrates effective variety with his attack. His explosiveness, ability to convert speed to power as well as his experience to understand tackles’ responses to his indicators are utilized well to provide tackles with a constantly evolving threat. Capable of getting to the quarterback early or late in the down, Griffen would be a persistent threat to opposition offenses.

Furthermore, Griffen presents problems for the opposition as a run defender. His aforementioned explosiveness paired with his stoutness and understanding of how offenses look to attack edge defenders ensures his relevance on rushing downs.

Should the 49ers be looking at Griffen?

Clearly, the combination of his injuries last season and undisclosed mental issues which forced him to take time away from the Vikings give people pause when considering his viability as a 49er. However, Griffen did return to the Vikings a month after leaving the team, playing the second half of the season. Given the sensitive nature of the situation, speculating would be in poor taste; it merely seems reasonable to believe the 49ers will do their due diligence and decide if Griffen is in the right place physically and mentally to pursue.

Notwithstanding, it is patently obvious that his on-field abilities would provide the 49ers with a significant upgrade at LEO. His skillset compares nicely with possible future 49er Nick Bosa, with both players possessing outstanding physical and athletic gifts as well as the polish and ability to positively impact the game as both run defenders and pass rushers. With the increasing belief that the Cardinals will draft Kyler Murray, the prospect of pairing Griffen with Bosa is mouthwatering. At his Combine interview, John Lynch stressed the 49ers look for power at the LEO spot, as well as the speed and finesse elements to add further variety to their rush. In Everson Griffen, the 49ers would be acquiring an exciting concoction of these attributes and a locker room leader to boot.