MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen will become a free agent for the first time in his 11-year career, coming off a bounce-back season for the longest-tenured player on the team.
Griffen has chosen to exercise his option to void the remaining three years on his contract, a person with knowledge of the decision confirmed Thursday to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the move.
Though Griffen could re-sign with the team on the open market next month, his unsurprising choice will clear more than $13 million off the books for 2020 for the salary cap-strapped Vikings. To give the team more space for 2019 and avoid being released, Griffen agreed a year ago to a restructured deal that reduced his base salary and added performance incentives for playing time and sacks to trigger his opt-out clause.
Griffen did not become a starter until 2014, his fifth season in the league. The 32-year-old has long kept himself in optimal condition, never missing more than one game to injury in any season, so he ought to draw interest in free agency. With 74½ sacks, Griffen is 15th in the NFL among active players.
Griffen had eight sacks in 15 games in 2019, following a rough year off the field when he took five games off to treat his mental health. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital the day before a game in 2018, after a scary series of incidents around the Twin Cities when he threatened gun violence in a hotel lobby and made repeated comments about believing people were trying to kill him.
The Vikings will now have at least three defensive starters hit free agency, with Griffen, safety Anthony Harris and cornerback Trae Waynes. Another regular, nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander, will do so as well, along with backup defensive end Stephen Weatherly. More turnover could be coming, too, with the contracts of cornerback Xavier Rhodes and nose tackle Linval Joseph looming particularly large against the salary cap.