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.
The above play was his only sack of the game & was a real effort play. Excellent power on show to walk Staley back. Also see the benefits of interior pressure that prevented the QB from stepping up. Here's another display of power, this time from LE v McGlinchey. Vicious long arm pic.twitter.com/SIwHlbvPmM— Scott Geelan (@Scott_Geelan) March 5, 2019
He really understands how to utilise his power. Despite being up there in age, he's still explosive off the ball & converts speed to power well. Demonstrates inside hand placement to initiate the bull rush & redirect inside after lifting Staley right off balance pic.twitter.com/Jni3RlXxlu— Scott Geelan (@Scott_Geelan) March 5, 2019
Variety with his speed-power then redirect inside here. Long arm inside with his left rather than bull rushing, clears Staley's inside hand with a downward swipe of that left hand before hitting the arm over to get free. Forced an overthrow on a would-be TD pic.twitter.com/zlZeqJ4z96— Scott Geelan (@Scott_Geelan) March 5, 2019
Isn't just a power rusher though - he'll win with speed too. Harrison Smith gets the sack here coming unblocked, but Griffen would have got home as well. Great explosiveness, hits the club-rip to clear Staley's hands. Bend, strength & balance to turn the corner pic.twitter.com/VmdEbcaLQL— Scott Geelan (@Scott_Geelan) March 5, 2019
Wide angle here to give an idea of his explosiveness off the ball when he times it up. The guy on the left side is Danielle Hunter (so an absolute freak) & Griffen on the right side is a couple of yards ahead. Staley shows his ability though (times up the snap like a vet too) pic.twitter.com/gl0cHw6M8T— Scott Geelan (@Scott_Geelan) March 5, 2019
More outrageous explosiveness off the right side. This time he blows by Staley; it takes all the LT's length to try to redirect him, forcing Garoppolo up in the pocket. Pair that ability with Buckner & Thomas/AA inside QB's will be completely trapped pic.twitter.com/NvdyTWmXWx— Scott Geelan (@Scott_Geelan) March 5, 2019
Another thing for tackles to worry about... he's got a spin move ️ Shows the speed & as soon as Staley's hips get parallel to the sideline explodes off his outside leg to spin back inside. Mean icepick to finish Staley & gets pressure. This is all coming against a PREMIER LT pic.twitter.com/FWvshBk7qr— Scott Geelan (@Scott_Geelan) March 5, 2019
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.
Manhandles Staley in the red zone here. Is un-moved by the attempted double team with Staley getting early help from Celek, maintaining a powerful position before stacking & shedding Staley to make the tackle for virtually no gain. Grown man play pic.twitter.com/oEUAw6UBM1— Scott Geelan (@Scott_Geelan) March 5, 2019
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.