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The NFL is a risky business. One injury can end a player’s career. An off-field incident can cost a player his job. And in the case of former Minnesota Vikings star Everson Griffen, one contractual decision cost him $43 million. And while he finally found a new home with the Dallas Cowboys, the defensive end settled for an absurdly cheap deal that exposed the dangers of betting big on free agency.

Everson Griffen became a star in Minnesota

Everson Griffen entered the NFL as a fourth-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft. The former USC standout and five-star high-school recruit translated his impressive measurables into top-notch production on the field.

It didn’t happen immediately, though. Griffen didn’t start a single game in his first two seasons in the NFL. However, he flashed immense upside thanks to a deep arsenal of pass-rush moves.

Despite totaling just 17.5 sacks in his first four seasons, the Vikings signed the 6-foot-3, 278-pound defensive end to a five-year, $42.5 million deal with $20 million guaranteed.

After scoring a major payday, Griffen transformed from a rotational player to a legit superstar. He racked up 12 sacks in the first year of his deal. From 2015-2017, he totaled 31.5 sacks, 77 quarterback hits, and three Pro Bowl berths. In addition, his sensational 2017 campaign that included a career-high 13 sacks resulted in Griffen earning second-team All-Pro honors.

Former Vikings star gave up $43 million by opting-out

It took Everson Griffen longer than expected to reach his potential. Yet, the Vikings’ patience paid off. Coming off his third consecutive Pro Bowl season, Griffen broke the bank again by scoring a four-year, $58 million deal in July 2017.

This time, though, Minnesota did not get a great return on its investment. Griffen played just 11 games in 2018 while dealing with personal matters away from football. His sack total plummeted to just 5.5.

Last season, Griffen returned to the team motivated to live up to his monster contract extension. Though he failed to record double-digit sacks for the second straight season, he hit the playing time and sack requirements that gave him the freedom to opt-out of his contract.

With the Vikings pressed for cap space, the veteran surprisingly opted-out of the final three years of his deal that would have paid him $43 million. Things only got worse when COVID-19 hit, as teams did not spend wildly in free agency given the uncertainty of the 2020 NFL season.

Stuck on the free-agent market for months, Everson Griffen finally found a new home on Wednesday. Only he took a massive pay cut compared to what he could have made in Minnesota.

Cowboys steal Griffen on a one-year deal

Leave it up to Jerry Jones to pluck another Pro Bowl defensive lineman off the market. On Wednesday, the Cowboys signed Everson Griffen to a one-year deal. He will earn a base salary of $3 million. In addition, he can make up to $3 million in per-game roster bonuses.

For just $6 million, the Cowboys managed to steal the most accomplished pass-rusher left on the market. While that represents a bargain buy for Jones, it just goes to show how much of a risk Griffen took by opting-out of his Vikings contract.

While Minnesota may have released Griffen outright, he still took a huge gamble by giving up a three-year cash flow of $43 million. Given his age and declining production, he did not garner much interest on the open market.

Ultimately, the Cowboys took advantage of a buyer’s market. Perhaps Griffen wanted to join a contender. Maybe the allure of playing alongside stars like DeMarcus Lawrence and Gerald McCoy seemed too good to pass up. Either way, the four-time Pro Bowler lost out on millions by opting-out of his deal. Let’s see if Everson Griffen’s decision pays off with a Super Bowl ring.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference. Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.


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