Seattle Seahawks

As they keep waiting on Jadeveon Clowney, Seahawks consider a new free-agent pass rusher

Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen (97) takes a moment before the game. The Seattle Seahawks played the Minnesota Vikings in a NFL football game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash., on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018.
Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen (97) takes a moment before the game. The Seattle Seahawks played the Minnesota Vikings in a NFL football game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash., on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018.

The Seahawks’ chances to sign a star free-agent edge rusher just went up.

Maybe to sign two of them, even.

Everson Griffen said goodbye to Minnesota, his NFL home for the last decade, in an online letter the 32-year-old defensive end posted on Friday. That opens his free agency to the rest of the league.

He immediately becomes attractive to Seattle. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll coached Griffen at USC a dozen years ago.

Carroll has stated his top offseason priority is upgrading Seattle’s pass rush for 2020. Only Miami had fewer sacks last season.

Griffen indeed would upgrade Seattle. But at a cost, of course.

The Seahawks remain waiting for their top pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney to decide whether to accept their bid or some other team’s. The 27-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher hasn’t gotten any offer he likes this week. He’s been seeking at least $20 million per season. Seattle is believed to be offering $18.5 million per year, per Sports Illustrated’s Corbin Smith, plus familiarity, a coach and a locker room he’s said he loves.

In the meantime, five days into free agency, the Seahawks are addressing contingencies if Clowney leaves. Or, perhaps, even if he re-signs.

Griffen would come more cheaply and likely for one or at most two years. That’s because of his age, and perhaps for some teams his mental-health crisis during Minnesota’s 2018 season.

He has done what Clowney has yet to in his career: have double-digit sack seasons. Griffen has done that three times. Griffen earned selection to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time last season. He’s played in at least 15 of 16 regular-season games in eight of his last nine seasons since his rookie year of 2010 with the Vikings.

The lone exception was 2018. That was when football became secondary to Griffen’s well-being in life.

In September 2018, after being selected for the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons, Griffen had a mental breakdown. It’s what Griffen was referring to in his online letter when he wrote: “I also stumbled a few times on my journey.”

The Star-Tribune in Minneapolis reported the Vikings had banned him from team headquarters during a week in Sept. 2018 because of outbursts. The newspaper reported Griffen had “paranoia, fears for his life and combative behavior with family and teammates.”

He was reportedly walking around and laying in the lobby of the Vikings’ hotel the day before a game threatening to “shoot someone.” Police came. They released Griffen without arrest. He went home, where a police report said he had previously frightened his wife and children. His wife and kids left home before Griffen returned there following the hotel incident. His wife reported Griffen was fighting “demons” in his head.

Police arrived at Griffen’s home and took him away in an ambulance. He reportedly jumped from the ambulance on its way to a hospital. After getting talked back in, he was quoted as telling officer “I was scared for my life.”

The Vikings put him on leave. The Star-Tribune reported he received treatment at a mental-health facility. It seemed possible he’d never play football again. People wondered aloud if Griffen was suffering from issues related to brain injury and CTE.

Five weeks after the incident at the hotel, Griffen rejoined the Vikings as their captain for the rest of the 2018 season. He missed five games that year. He finished with 5 1/2 sacks. It was his lowest total since he’d been a part-time player in 2013.

He took a pay cut to remain with Minnesota for 2019. Last April he told reporters there: “It’s a progression each and every day. I’m taking it day by day, staying consistent with my life outside of football with those matters and stuff like that, and I’m happy. I’m happy.

“Am I back to myself? Yeah, I’m back to smiling, joking, that fun guy to be around, but I truly have an understanding of the things that I have to hold myself accountable with day in and day out. That’s what I took upon myself this offseason to handle and make sure I got a good handle on that, to be able to come back with an open mind and ready to play football at a high level again. ...

“...Now it’s time that I can enjoy (football) and bring that enjoyment, but still enjoy life. Find that balance. That’s what I really want to find, that balance.”

He had eight sacks for the Vikings last season. His contract expired this winter. Initially, it appeared he would return to Minnesota for 2020. Then Friday he issued his goodbye. That cements his now-headlining place in what’s left of NFL free agency.

Clowney and Griffen are the two biggest free-agent prizes left in a market that began Monday and has otherwise entered its secondary stages.

Clowney is deciding between three choices:

  1. Wait on a team to eventually make a bigger offer.
  2. Accept a shorter, perhaps one-year deal elsewhere to retry the market in 2021 when the salary cap is expected to spike with a new collective bargaining agreement.
  3. Re-sign with Seattle, for less than he originally wanted.

If Clowney decided to go the one-year route and re-try the market next spring, that could increase the Seahawks’ chances of re-signing him. He could prove his market value in 2020 with a team he knows best and most recently, after arriving in a trade from Houston Sept. 1. He’s already stated his love for the locker room and city. Plus, Seattle’s medical staff knows his core-muscle injury and recovery plan from his sports-hernia surgery in January better than any other in the league.

But, ultimately, money talks. It always does.

Because Griffen is likely to attract multiple offers now that he’s departed Minnesota’s plans, the Seahawks may not be able to wait for Clowney to choose before acting on Griffen. Seattle may need to clear space beyond the $18.3 million they had available as of Friday to sign either edge rusher—or, to upgrade the pass rush as it needs, both.

The Seahawks have three veterans in particular they could release and save a combined $13.88 million: tight end Dickson ($3 million in potential cap savings), benched safety Tedric Thompson ($2.1 million) and center Justin Britt ($8.75 million), who is coming off a season-ending knee surgery.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.