MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Everson Griffen didn't want to entertain offers from other teams. His loyalty was with the Minnesota Vikings.
They stuck with him after his rookie year when he was arrested twice for unruly behavior in a three-day span. They supported him when his mother suddenly died in 2012. So he's determined to pay them back with the production to match the five-year, $42.5 million contract they gave him with $20 million in guaranteed money.
"They're holding me up to a higher expectation. They knew what I could do when they drafted me here in 2010, and now it's time for me to go out there and blossom with this team, with all of my boys," Griffen said Tuesday on a conference call. "It's time to go out there and celebrate on the field every single play, every single down. It means the world to me. It just means they trust in me."
As free agency formally began, amid a flurry of headline-generating activity around the NFL, the Vikings finalized the contracts with Griffen and quarterback Matt Cassel that they agreed to over the weekend.
Minnesota also, according to ESPN, agreed to a five-year deal worth as much as $31.5 million with nose tackle Linval Joseph. FoxSports.com first reported that deal, which will bring the 6-foot-4, 323-pound stalwart from the New York Giants to anchor new coach Mike Zimmer's defense. Joseph, a second-round pick out of East Carolina in 2010, averaged 55 tackles and three sacks over the last three seasons. He will fill a critical run-stopping spot on the line.
Griffen will handle the edge, along with returning starter Brian Robison, and replace the departed Jared Allen in the starting lineup. Griffen had 13½ sacks over the last two years as a part-timer.
"Oh, man, I haven't even touched the surface of what I can do," Griffen said. "I'm ready to work. I'm ready to listen. I'm going to absorb all of this knowledge that coach Zimmer is going to give me."
Griffen was almost beside himself with excitement in talking about his future. Though he's never played for Zimmer, or new defensive coordinator George Edwards or new defensive line coach Andre Patterson, Griffen sounded supremely confident in their ability to teach technique, devise a game plan and motivate the players — especially the head coach.
"He's going to pull the most out of you. He's going to find what you're made of. He's going to make sure that he gets the best out of this team," Griffen said, adding: "I just feel with his mastermind skills and what he brings to the table, he's going to use not just me, he's going to use every single player on the team the right way."
Cassel opted out of the final year of his original contract to start from scratch and wound up making more money because of it, but he said he didn't feel compelled to enter the open market and experience the courting process, either. He said he was excited enough about Zimmer and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner to stay, despite the frustration he endured last year with Christian Ponder and even Josh Freeman taking turns on the carousel until Cassel finally took over permanently in December.
During the season, Cassel was as diplomatic as could be about the situation in interviews, but on his conference call he opened up a little.
"I don't think I always knew where I stood from week-to-week," Cassel said. "As you guys well know, there was always something going on and you never really knew until coach would tell you what was going on."
Ponder is still on the roster, but the Vikings will almost certainly draft a quarterback in one of the early rounds. Cassel said he realizes there are no assurances of keeping the job. But he said he "absolutely" considers himself atop the depth chart for now.
"I go in with the expectation to be the starter, and that won't change," Cassel said. "At the same time, you've got to go out there and prove it and compete. There's going to be two other quarterbacks, maybe three other quarterbacks, in here competing as well."