The NFL Network’s ranking of players and the impact they’re expected to have in 2013 continued to count down Thursday when defensive end Jared Allen checked in at No. 60 – far lower than his 2012 ranking and dropping him significantly on the defensive end list.
The fact that the NFL Network panel doesn’t view Allen as a pre-eminent defensive end – fellow NFC defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul (No. 55) and Julius Pepper (No. 54) were rated higher – is part of the perception that Allen is still very good but not a dominant player at this stage of his career.
In interviews following his annual Night Ops charity golf tournament last weekend, Allen said that he and the Vikings have had no contact during the offseason to get a contract extension done that would assure he ends his career with the Vikings. The lack of discussion is troubling in a pair of respects.
First, the Vikings have a pretty longstanding history of making sure the players they’re viewing as being part of the future of the franchise don’t make it to the final year of their contract. For example, when Ray Edwards was entering the final year of his rookie contract it wasn’t him but DE Brian Robison who was signed to a long-term extension. The handwriting was on the wall for Edwards, as it has been for vested veteran Vikings like Matt Birk and Antoine Winfield. Allen could be heading in that same direction.
Second, if the Vikings were looking to keep Allen in Minnesota for the foreseeable future, it would make financial sense to get a new deal done. Allen is scheduled to make $14.28 million this season with a cap number in excess of $17 million that could be reduced with a contract extension and would have given the Vikings more room under the salary cap before free agency began. That clearly didn’t happen.
The Vikings seem willing to let Allen play the final year of the deal he signed when the Vikings swung a trade prior to the 2008 draft to acquire him. Allen has played through a litany of injuries over the last couple of years and there may be the perception that, while still one of the biggest difference-makers at the DE position, the nagging injuries are starting to take a toll. Late last season, Allen was effusive in his praise of trainer Eric Sugarman and his staff, saying that he had spent more time in the training room in 2012 than he had during the rest of his career combined.
As a business, there isn’t a lot of loyalty in the NFL. It’s a “what have you done for me lately?” mindset. The feeling is that there isn’t a player that can’t be replaced, but, if there is such a player, in the case of the Vikings, Allen would qualify. For the better part of a decade, the Vikings used premium draft picks to try to fill a glaring need at defensive end – with disastrous results. In the decade prior to trading for Allen, the Vikings used first-round draft picks on Dimitrius Underwood, Kenechi Udeze and Erasmus James and a second-round pick on Michael Boireau – none of whom panned out as expected. Allen brought the sack element back to the Vikings defense that had been missing for so long and has earned the money the Vikings have spent on him, in relative NFL terms, of course.
The Vikings’ decision not to conduct contract talks with Allen may be perceived as similar to what they did with Birk and Winfield. Both of those players were viewed as “faces of the franchise” at their positions, yet were allowed to let their contracts expire and move on to other teams. Will Allen become the next one to go that route? Considering the Vikings’ firm stance on keeping the team young – anyone over 30 is an endangered species –perception may become reality by the end of the 2013 season.
For guys like Allen, age, as they say, is just a number. He has a lot of football left in him. The question now is how much of that football will be played with the Vikings?
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.