Zimmer: Griffen was first choice at DE


MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings' pursuit of former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson began just after the start of the free agency negotiating period on March 8. It was fueled by an obvious connection between Johnson and new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who had been Johnson's defensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

The Vikings, however, finished a five-year, $42.5 million deal with Everson Griffen in the early morning hours March 9, and Johnson had a five-year, $43.75 million deal with Tampa Bay in place just before the start of free agency. Zimmer said in a radio interview Thursday morning that he "lost" out on Johnson because he wanted to be closer to his Selma, Ala., home, but added bringing back Griffen was the Vikings' first priority.

"Michael is a very Southern, country kid," Zimmer said on KFAN-FM in the Twin Cities. "It had nothing to do with football. He wanted to be with me, and I think that was the struggle he was going through -- whether to be with me in Minnesota or close to home. I lost.

"I don't want to give the impression that Michael Johnson was the guy we were going after and Everson was the second guy. We felt like Everson was a guy that, his career is starting to go up and he was the guy that we really put our eggs in his basket first. If it got too out of hand, money-wise or something like that, we were going to move on Michael."

The Vikings would have had to get creative, both with their scheme and their finances, to get Griffen and Johnson. It's hard to envision a scenario in which they would have landed both, but it seemed like they knew fairly early in the process that Johnson wanted to stay home, which probably allowed them to hammer out the Griffen deal in short order. The team had been talking with Griffen's camp in general terms about a new deal for months, but things got serious late on the night of March 8 and early in the morning of March 9.

As we discussed earlier in the month, it was an interesting twist to see Johnson sign with Tampa Bay (where former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is the defensive coordinator) while Griffen stayed in Minnesota with Zimmer, but if Johnson was always itching to play closer to home and Griffen wanted to stay in Minnesota, things might have worked out for both players anyway. Time will tell how the deals worked out for both teams.