FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Ryan Griffin visited Nashville, Tennessee, in April to attend a teammate's birthday party and ended up in jail for a few hours. The fallout was severe: He got fired by the Houston Texans.
Seven months later, his football career flourishing once again, the big tight end (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) doesn't hide from the embarrassing arrest, which he described as "a tough night that turned into an even worse morning" in the Music City.
"I take full responsibility for it," said Griffin, who has been one of the bright spots in the New York Jets' 4-7 season.
What a turnaround. He has gone from security risk (for one night) to security blanket, quickly gaining the trust of quarterback Sam Darnold. When he throws to Griffin, there's an 85% chance it will be caught, based on 28 receptions out of 33 targets. Griffin is one of the reasons the Jets, going nowhere for two months, suddenly have life.
Ironically, Griffin's turning point was draft weekend, when careers are born, not derailed. He left his friend's party and wound up in downtown Nashville, which hosted the 2019 NFL draft. It resembled Times Square on New Year's Eve, with crowded streets and overflowing bars. He was charged with vandalism and public intoxication after punching out the front window of a hotel, according to the police report, which also stated his left hand and fingers were bleeding.
After posting a $1,750 bond, he was released from Davidson County jail shortly after 7 a.m., knowing he had made an egregious mistake. The charges were eventually dropped and he made restitution for the window, apologizing for his behavior. Two weeks later, he was cut by the Texans after six seasons.
"I had too much fun at the party and made bad decisions," Griffin said. "It was very poorly timed. It started my exit out of Houston, kind of a bitter ending to an otherwise great start to my career there."
Griffin was unemployed for more than two months, his first spring without football since his high school days in Londonderry, New Hampshire. He floated in free-agent limbo, with an off-the-field issue tarnishing his name. The experience, he said, was "really eye-opening. It sucked. It sucked."
On the eve of training camp, Griffin signed a one-year contract with the Jets, who needed tight-end depth with starter Chris Herndon poised to miss the first four regular-season games because of a league suspension. At the time, Griffin was just a blip on the transactions wire, overshadowed by the team's previous high-profile additions on offense, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Jamison Crowder. Griffin's job was to hold down the fort until Herndon returned, then step aside as Herndon and Darnold rekindled their chemistry from last season.
Except the story went in another direction.
Due to a hamstring injury, Herndon came back late and lasted less than a game before suffering a season-ending broken rib. By then, Griffin already had established himself as a contributor in the passing game. After 11 games, he has 282 receiving yards and a team-leading five touchdown receptions, the most by a Jets tight end since Dustin Keller's five in 2011.
"I didn't know much about him before we picked him up, then we got him and right when he got in here, I knew the kind of guy he was, first and foremost," Darnold said. "I knew he was going to work hard, do all the right things off the field. Then, once he got on the field, I knew we had a special guy in this locker room and special player."
Griffin, 29, wasn't much of a factor early in the season, but he has emerged as one of Darnold's go-to options -- 21 targets and 19 catches in the past five games. Most of his production has come as an in-line tight end, but he lines up wide and in the slot, too. In fact, he has one touchdown catch from the slot and one as a wideout. He has been a revelation for the Jets, who rewarded him with a three-year contract extension last Saturday.
"I think he just does a good job of doing the right thing at the right time, a lot of the time," said coach Adam Gase, adding that Griffin's blocking ability has surprised him more than anything else.
Griffin caught 136 passes and seven touchdowns during his time in Houston, including 50 receptions in 2016, so he was a moderately accomplished receiver. Put it this way: He had more career catches at the start of this season than wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, who figured to have a major role until a Week 1 neck injury ended his season.
Two weeks ago, Griffin delivered his career game (five catches, 109 yards) against the Washington Redskins, but it was his touchdown -- specifically, his end zone spike -- that garnered the most attention. Instead of firing the ball into the ground, he pretended it was stuck to his right hand, as if he were using Stickum (banned in 1981). The video went viral and a sports-apparel company, trying to capitalize on the goof, created a T-shirt: "Sticky Hands Griffin."
Griffin got the idea from a former UConn teammate, who recalled their TD celebrations while playing the Madden video game in college. He reenacted it so well that some people really thought it was Stickum.
"I guess I executed it well," he said, laughing.
If you make a living catching a football, it's better to be known for sticky hands than butter fingers. Or a "bad decision."
"There were a lot of life lessons learned, for sure," Griffin said, referring to his Nashville nadir. "As soon as you stop learning, you stop growing."