EAGAN, Minn. – Everson Griffen in Vikings Purple just feels right.
Griffen re-signed with Minnesota Monday and participated in the afternoon's full-padded practice with the team.
"It feels like home. Familiar faces," Griffen told Twin Cities media members. "You guys, the players … the coaching staff – Coach Dre (Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson) is here and [Head Coach Mike Zimmer]. Danielle [Hunter]. It's just good to see familiar faces. It's like being home."
For the Griffen family, Minnesota is exactly that.
Everson and his wife Tiffany, along with their three sons, have maintained roots in the Twin Cities. Griffen signed with the Cowboys last season in free agency before he was traded to the Lions; although his family joined him each time, the Griffens never sold their home here.
View photos of Vikings DE Everson Griffen at his first practice back with the team after he signed on Aug. 23.
From spending time on the lake to helping coach his 8-year-old son's football team, Griffen hasn't ventured too far. And now he's back where he belongs after a challenging 2020.
"It was rough," Griffen said of navigating the 2020 season between the COVID-19 pandemic and two new teams. "It was a hard year of football during a pandemic, moving my family three times, almost four times, so it was hard, but I just strapped up, did what I had to do, take care of the family and put my best foot forward, and I did.
"And I played well. I played good football down the stretch," he added. "I learned two different playbooks in a matter of three or four months. You have to take that into consideration. I feel like what I did last year, I did well, but it was rough; it was hard on my family."
Griffen played 14 games last season: seven with Detroit and seven with Dallas. He totaled 33 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, seven tackles for loss and four passes defensed. He totaled five tackles, including one for a loss, in two with the Lions against the Vikings.
The change of scenery after 10 seasons with the Vikings, though, didn't live up to the hype.
"Why did I leave [Minnesota]? I left because I thought the grass was greener on the other side, to be honest, and it wasn't," Griffen said after pondering the question for a few moments. "Going to Dallas, going to Detroit, the grass wasn't greener. I didn't get the love that I got here with the fans, with the coaches, with the players.
"I should have stayed last year, to be honest. Where people love me, where the fans love me, where you guys love me," he continued. "I should have stayed, but I worked hard. I made sure that I was productive enough. I should have stayed, but I'm happy to be back."
There was no missing Griffen's signature laugh and his enthusiasm in the huddle. But not quite all was back to normal when he exited the locker room wearing a No. 58 jersey.
Hopefully, the number is temporary. But there's no guarantee he'll don his old digits again.
Griffen wore 97 for the Vikings since being drafted 100th overall in 2010. The number on his back is as familiar as the 100% REAL tattooed across the inside of his biceps.
View the photos of Vikings DE Everson Griffen from the 2019 season. The Vikings signed and welcomed him back on Aug. 23.
Currently, Vikings defensive tackle Michael Pierce is wearing 97, having also repped the number since being drafted by Baltimore. He hasn't yet worn it in a regular-season game for Minnesota, however, being that he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Will there be any negotiating between the new teammates?
"He told me that he'll give it to me, so we're going to see all that [out]. It's my first day back in pads, man. I'm tired," Everson laughed. "I'm just trying to figure out everything."
And while he acknowledged it's "a little bit weird" seeing Pierce in 97, Griffen isn't overly concerned one way or another.
"It's all right. It's not about the number," Griffen emphasized. "I'll make any number [work], and I'm just going to go out there and do my job."
In just shy of three weeks, the Vikings will open their season with a road game against the Bengals.
It's a short turnaround time, but Griffen is confident he'll be ready to go.
"I feel like I've got more than enough time, and we're going to take it day by day," he noted. "This was my first day out, full pads, just some individual [drills], did a little 1-on-1 pass rush, did some drill work. So the next day, we're going to take it up a little bit more, then the next day a little bit more."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Griffen said he never lost the technique and skills he learned from Patterson, and he's thankful to reunite with the longtime coach as well as Hunter, whom he's seen develop since being drafted in 2015.
" 'Rushmen 4 life,' " Griffen said, referencing the position group's mantra. "I missed Danielle. I missed the guys that I watched grow up. And to see the player that he is – he looks like Superman still. He's big, he's long, he's physical. It's good to see him."
Griffen's locker at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center directly neighbors Hunter's, but the two may not start opposite one another on the defensive line. An existing competition between Stephen Weatherly and D.J. Wonnum has persisted through training camp for the other defensive end spot, and Zimmer said earlier Monday that Griffen would likely be a "situational player."
If that's the way it all plays out, the 33-year-old is embracing the role whole-heartedly.
"Situation, whatever they have me do, I'm happy to do it," Griffen said. "I'm going to try to do it at the highest level and go out there and help this team win ball games."
He later added that in addition to working out for the Vikings earlier this week, he had multiple off-field conversations with leadership in the building.
"[I had to show] that my head was in it. That I'm in a good place [mentally]. Of course, that's first and foremost," Griffen said. "I think football will always take care of itself, and I just know my role. If they want me as a situational player, I can do that. Wherever they want me, I can do it."
Regardless of the number he wears, where he lines up or when, one thing is for certain: Everson Griffen is home, and that's all that matters.
"I was kind of out there on the streets a little bit just waiting for the right fit," he said. "This has always been the right fit for me, and I'm excited to be here, excited to be back with the team. It's been a journey, but I'm happy to be back."