Vikings' Griffen: 'Rough year' with mental health

EAGAN, Minn. -- Everson Griffen offered an introspective look at his life over the past few months and discussed the difficulties that came with returning to the field while dealing with personal issues related to his mental health.

At the start of offseason workouts, the Minnesota Vikings defensive end said he's in a place where he finally feels like himself again after a "rough year." Griffen was hospitalized when concerns arose over his well-being last September, which led to him miss five weeks of the 2018 season.

"It's a progression each and every day," Griffen said Tuesday. "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."

Griffen returned to action in a Week 8 loss to New Orleans and finished the season with 5.5 sacks, his lowest output since his days as a situational pass-rusher in 2013. Getting back to his routine as a football player came with its own set of challenges. While the Pro Bowl defensive end applauded the Vikings organization for handling his situation "perfectly," trying to work through what he was dealing with off the field while maintaining his production on it proved difficult.

"To be honest, it was more of a get-through," Griffen said. "I need to get through this. I need to be tough. ... I enjoyed coming here because I'm a competitor, but it was more of a get-through because of how much I had on my plate. So it was more of a get-through. So I didn't really get the chance to enjoy it as much as I normally do.

"... Now it's time that I can enjoy it and bring that enjoyment, but still enjoy life. Find that balance. That's what I really want to find, that balance."

Last month, the 10th-year defensive end agreed to a contract restructure before his salary was set to become fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year. Griffen took a near $3 million pay cut to remain with the team that drafted him in 2010 and admitted that his struggles on the field gave him a feeling that restructuring his contract was inevitable.

"When I'm me, when I'm myself, I can play well," Griffen said. "And last year I wasn't myself. If I was myself, I wouldn't have to take a pay cut -- if I was myself, if I was playing at the level I know I can play at each and every year. But I wasn't, and sometimes things happen in your life that you have to get better with and you have to move forward and you have to learn from it. And this was a big learning experience and I dealt with some stuff.

"But now I'm comfortable, I'm happy, my family's happy, my kids are happy and that's what matters the most to me right now. Sitting here and being free and understanding where I can go and what I can do."

Though Griffen said the Vikings didn't approach him about taking a pay cut until close to the start of free agency, where the 31-year-old pass-rusher wants to be for the rest of his career was never in question.

"With me, it was bigger than football," he said. "I took it upon myself and my family to make the right decision to stay here because I want to be a Viking for life and it's rewarding because I know the people here love me and they have my best interest in mind. I just wanted to come back here and finish what I started. It feels good to be back in this building and being a Viking and just being around all my boys. This is going on my 10th year and I'm very blessed to be where I'm at right now and really, I'm just happy. I'm just happy to be standing here in front of you guys in this place I'm in right now."