Vikings, DE Griffen agree to 5-year, $42.5 million deal

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings have taken another one of their priority free agents off the market before it opens, agreeing to terms on a five-year contract with defensive end Everson Griffen that features $20 million guaranteed and a maximum value of $42.5 million.

A person with direct knowledge of the deal confirmed the details to The Associated Press on Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Vikings haven’t announced the deal. The NFL free-agent signing period starts Tuesday.

The Vikings also agreed to terms on a one-year contract with middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, according to another person with direct knowledge of that deal who spoke to the AP on Sunday on condition of anonymity because the Vikings haven’t confirmed the agreement. Brinkley played for the Arizona Cardinals last season.

Two days ago, the Vikings reached a two-year deal with quarterback Matt Cassel worth as much as $10 million.

The 26-year-old Griffen, a fourth-round draft pick from USC in 2010, has an opening to become a full-time player with the departure of four-time All-Pro Jared Allen, who will officially become a free agent on Tuesday and won’t be re-signed. Allen and Brian Robison have been the starting defensive ends for almost Griffen’s entire NFL career, though he has seen extensive action as a situational pass rusher and on special teams.

Griffen is getting paid more for his potential at a critical position in this pass-driven league than for actual production. He had 5½ sacks last season, down from eight in 2012. But he has the speed and athleticism to become a force if he can continue to develop, after making major strides in maturity in overcoming some off-the-field struggles including the sudden death of his mother in 2012.

Brinkley rebounded from a serious knee injury in 2007 at South Carolina to be drafted in the fifth round by the Vikings in 2009. After missing the entire 2011 season following major hip surgery, Brinkley bounced back again to become a first-time NFL starter in 2012. He hit free agency the next year and signed with the Cardinals.

Brinkley played in 15 games last season and started when Pro Bowl pick Darryl Washington served a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, but the Cardinals cut him last month to create more space under their salary cap. So he’s used to playing under this type of prove-it circumstance.

“They let me know the job’s wide open and it’s not going to be handed to anybody,” Brinkley said. “Everybody has an equal opportunity to earn that spot.”

As the depth chart currently stands, prior to the actual opening of the free agent market and of course the draft, Brinkley will be in competition with Audie Cole for the starting middle linebacker spot. In the “Tampa Two” defense the Vikings used to use, linebackers had deep drops in zone pass coverage and Brinkley was sometimes exploited. Brinkley’s skill set ought to better fit the scheme under new coach Mike Zimmer.

“Minnesota has always been home for me. It has a significant place in my heart. I was raised on the frozen tundra,” Brinkley said in a phone interview with the AP, foreshadowing the wintry conditions the Vikings could experience late this year at the University of Minnesota’s outdoor stadium while their replacement for the Metrodome is under construction.

From former Cincinnati cornerback Johnathan Joseph, a fellow South Carolina alumnus, Brinkley received a favorable report of Zimmer, who was Joseph’s defensive coordinator with the Bengals.

“He’s a defensive guy. He’s a straight shooter. He’s going to tell you how it is. He does magical things with his defensive guys,” Brinkley said.

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