In the eyes of most fans and pundits, the NFC North is a two-horse race between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings in 2020. The Packers won 13 games last year, captured the division and made it to the NFC Championship Game. The Vikings won 10 games and knocked off the Saints in New Orleans in the Wild Card Round.
It has the makings of quite the race, and as training camps prepare to get underway, both teams are making final touches to their rosters to jockey for position.
For one of these teams, those final touches could include either adding or bringing back veteran edge-rusher Everson Griffen. The Packers have been heavily linked to the 32-year-old in recent days, while the Vikings haven't ruled out a reunion with the 10-year veteran.
It might seem odd that bringing in a player just as camp is opening would be critical to the balance of power in the division.
But Griffen is. If Minnesota is going to knock off the Packers and take control of the North (as the NFL writers here at Bleacher Report recently predicted), then the team would be well-served to get Griffen back in the fold.
And the Vikings can't afford for him to join their archrivals.
As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweeted earlier this week, Griffen is in the process of deciding where he will play his 11th season—and both the Packers and Vikings remain in the mix.
Minnesota is the only professional home that Griffen has known in the NFL. He has piled up 74.5 career sacks, including three seasons with 10 or more. He's made it to four Pro Bowls, including following last year's 41-tackle, eight-sack campaign.
Griffen tallied 11.5 of those sacks in 20 meetings with the Packers—the second-most against an opponent in his career. As Stu Courtney reported for Packers News, he earned the respect of Green Bay Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari along the way.
"We've built an interesting relationship over the past years," Bakhtiari said. "I've got an immense amount of respect for him. I'm excited for the time he eventually gets out of our division, if that'll ever happen. It's always fun going against him because the one thing with our relationship, we both know that we both bring it, four quarters, 60 minutes, and it's just a heavyweight battle. It's fun."
Now the pair could be on the verge of becoming teammates—something that would most assuredly not be fun for the Vikings.
It's the proverbial double whammy. Griffen is admittedly on the downslope of his career. After racking up 43.5 sacks from 2014 to '17, he has just 13.5 the past two years combined. But after struggling mightily in 2018, Griffen rebounded last year. He may not be a great edge-rusher, but he demonstrated in 2019 that he remains a very good one.
The thing is, Griffen probably wouldn't even need to be a full-time player in Green Bay.
The Packers have a pair of established (and highly paid) edge-rushers in Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith (no relation). Griffen would rotate in behind them and potentially kick inside to rush the passer in sub-packages. It's unlikely that he would be on the field for 78 percent of the defensive snaps like with the Vikings in 2019.
The team would bring in Griffen to complement a pass rush that amassed a 41 sacks last year, not to carry it—to help boost Green Bay from the middle of the pack(ers) toward the top of the league that statistic.
But frankly, it's not what Griffen would do to help the Packers that's the real issue. Or the information that Griffen could impart to his new one about his old one (something that is perpetually overblown when players change teams).
It's a matter of what losing Griffen could mean in Minnesota.
The Vikings were among the league leaders in sacks last year, amassing 48 (fifth-most in the NFL). They have one of the best edge-rushers in the game in sixth-year pro Danielle Hunter (14.5 sacks in each of the past two campaigns). But it's been a rough offseason up front.
After six years with the team (and two trips to the Pro Bowl), tackle Linval Joseph left for the Los Angeles Chargers in free agency. The player brought in to replace him (fifth-year veteran Michael Pierce) decided to opt out of the 2020 season because of concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The issue isn't just along the defensive line either. Minnesota's top three cornerbacks from last year's playoff squad are gone. Xavier Rhodes was released before landing with the Indianapolis Colts, and both Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency.
Minnesota's 15th-ranked pass defense from a year ago now features an inexperienced secondary and questions up and down the defensive front outside of Hunter. If the Vikings can't generate consistent pressure on the quarterback, that young secondary is going to be exposed.
Per Over the Cap, the Vikings are sitting on about $14.2 million in cap space, roughly $750,000 more than the team behind them, which just so happens to be the Packers.
It's enough get Griffen back to the Twin Cities. And assuming that Griffen is at all amenable to that idea, that's what the Vikings need to do—partly because he Minnesota defense can ill afford to lose any more players, especially one with Griffen's ability and experience.
Just like in Jenga, there are only so many blocks you can pull out before the whole tower collapses.
There's also one thing that would be even worse than a defensive collapse that could keep the Vikings from not only winning the NFC North but also making the postseason in 2020. Watching Griffen help keep the balance of power in the division right where it has been for six of the past nine seasons—and maybe even help the Packers get to Super Bowl LV.