I'm normally not the most far-sighted guy when it comes to football. I can't tell you salary cap figures years in advance, I haven't a clue typically who's even going to be draft eligible until about January (and even then it's usually just LSU players and maybe the top 5-10 who are already being touted), and I'm often only vaguely aware of when contracts end unless it's just one year away.
But the DE position for the Vikings is such a striking situation right now that it's impossible to not see or to ignore. We currently have, in my opinion, three starting-caliber DEs who are excellent at their position, and all are entering the last year of their contract.
We can say with certainty two things: first, DE is the strongest position on this team, hands down. Yes, we're set at RB, but if you were to ask me which backup has the most overall potential: Everson Griffin or Toby Gerhart, well, I've got to go with the former. Second, without a doubt at least one if not two of these DEs will NOT have their contracts lapse on us, and will return for 2014 and beyond. (Everson Griffin is a major lock IMO for this; Jared Allen and Brian Robison are the question marks.)
Perhaps the most glaring thing here is the fact that Jared Allen, as he enters into his final year, is due an enormous amount of money. Now while I'm not sure he should be the outright highest paid player on this team, I'm also not going to say he hasn't earned his money. The guy is a fan favorite for a reason, because he's sheer awesomeness in the shape of a man both on and off of the field. While he came here with ‘character concerns' thanks to several DUIs (no laughing matter mind you) from Kansas City, he has allayed those concerns better than any player not named Cris Carter in recent history.
But the contract does concern me. First off, as you are all well aware, I had a... shall we say, "mini episode" when the Vikings released Antoine Winfield, and I am still pining to get him back (although hope fades by the minute). The release was due to the fact that keeping Phil Loadholt cost more money than the Vikings originally anticipated, and the cap room to grab the necessary players in FA and keep Winfield just didn't exist. Why, therefore, Allen wasn't extended before that to prevent such a situation- well, I hadn't a clue until recently.
Some people argue that approaching a player to restructure their contract is a very risky proposition that could insult the player. But that only counts when the player has years left; Allen's contract restructuring would have also come with an extension, so it's a win-win in my book. Let's face it: Allen's not getting any younger, and he finally had to have the first surgery since having his tonsils removed this offseason. Actually, he had two surgeries. So I have a hard time believing he wouldn't be pleased with some job security in the form of an extension.
I wouldn't outright call his contract an "albatross"- again, he's a very valuable player on this team, the embarrassment of riches at the position notwithstanding. Robison had an excellent year by all accounts last year, but as we saw with Ray Edwards, it's tough to judge how well a player really does at the left defensive end position when they have the benefit of teams focusing on Allen. (I'm not saying Robison will have the tremendous drop-off like Edwards did, but- well, we just have a harder time telling right now.) But, to pay a player that kind of money, with a capable backup ready to roll into his slot, just for one year: it makes no sense. Especially for our team, which is still young and reloading. If this were 2009 and we were making our big push for the Super Bowl the situation could be construed as very different, but that is obviously not the case here.
In my opinion, as much as it pains me to say it, if we're not going to extend Jared Allen then we have no business not trading him. And quite frankly if we're trading a young blue-chipper like Percy Harvin because we're not dumb enough to let him ultimately walk for nothing, then I would imagine the FO has the exact same opinion on Allen. So what's up?
One interesting theory could be filed under the title "Bjorn Werner" (or Bjeorn Werner, whichever). A guy who is projected to be one of the best DEs in the draft for whatever reason/s keeps slipping and sliding. Not always does he project as far down as #23, but then again, with considerable draft ammunition the Vikings do have room to maneuver up. It's entirely possible that, having noticed this, the FO is going to wait-and-see what happens with this. If Werner does land in our lap, I would anticipate a draft-day trade of Allen; the moment that the Vikings realize that they can get Werner would be the moment Rick Spielman probably starts making those calls. Whether that trade would involve second round and below picks, picks in next year's draft, players, or whatever combination thereof I haven't a clue. Considering what Spielman managed to get for Harvin I would imagine it would be a decent enough haul. Conversely of course, if Werner goes higher and the Vikings never have a chance, I would anticipate an extension for Allen shortly thereafter.
See, if we are going to trade him no matter what, it would have happened already. So I honestly cannot understand what other reason exists for Allen not having been extended yet and still being a Viking. The downside to this wait-and-see strategy, wise as it may be in some aspects, is the fact that it means Winfield will likely be long gone, and we'll have no hope of him returning. Naturally, of course, he's visiting the Seahawks, so you can pretty much assume that's going to happen anyways. I really do not want to face them this season.
So if it's Werner or Allen that will be manning one side in 2013 and beyond, who is it for the other slot? Robison or Griffin?
Some have pointed out that Robison is 30, just like Jared Allen. He was also banged up last year as well. But I think focusing on his age could be slightly deceptive. Recall Pat Williams, who played at a high level well into later years. One of the reasons he claimed allowed that was because he had not played as a starter his entire career- much like Robison. His body was fresher because it had not had the same amount, chronologically speaking, of wear-and-tear as other players in his position at his age. It is possible Robison could benefit from a similar situation, remaining a high-caliber player into later years when many of his peers have drastically declined. The continuity he could provide should Allen depart would be helpful as well. And quite honestly, as well as he has played in recent years, he just doesn't command a trade value of realistic proportions- as silly as it may be to let players walk for nothing but a compensatory pick (if you're lucky), sometimes that's just what's going to happen. If Robison were to sign a big contract elsewhere in 2014, the compensatory pick may even be basically what we would have gotten in a trade anyways. Especially since teams have now seen what happens when a DE no longer plays opposite of Jared Allen. (Again, not saying Robison= Edwards, but it's still hard to forget.)
More importantly than that, however, is the fact that keeping Robison may negate the possibility of keeping Griffin. Last season he did about as much as he could to prove he can start at DE in the NFL. Other attempts to get him on the field in the role of a LB have failed, so this is basically his one window to get going. Keeping Griffin in a back-up role, particularly if he proves himself again in 2013 as he did in 2012, is going to likely be impossible- especially if Werner arrives. If Jared Allen is extended by 2 years for a total of a 3-year contract, it may- may- be vaguely possible to convince him to sign a 4 year contract with the assurance that he is Allen's heir apparent, and try and sell him on the benefits of learning under the master while increasingly rotating in. If Werner arrives that possibility obviously does not exist, and it's most likely going to come down to Robison or Griffin- at which point, Robison's ‘freshness' or not, you've got to roll with the younger guy.
Which, mind you, will suck. If you don't follow Robison on twitter you should do so. I love a player who casually talks on it and even chats with fans- not just the "thanks" when you say how awesome he is or the obligatory retweet because you sent him a gratuitous "OMG ROBISON I LOVE YOU IT WOULD MAKE MY DAY IF YOU RT'D THIS" nonsense. (Seriously, don't do that crap. It's embarrassing.) The guy will talk about a new boat he got, and if you ask him about it, he'll reply. I just think that's cool. But I seriously digress.
This is the situation teams end up in when they have embarrassment of riches at a position- eventually, you're going to have to start picking and choosing. It's a bit unfortunate that the Vikings managed to let all 3 have contracts that end in the exact same year, but overall I see several scenarios where it will work out just fine. To recap: we draft Werner, trade Allen, let Robison play out his contract and extend Griffin, signaling a new age for the historically awesome Vikings' D-line. (Not to mention of course Kevin Williams in all of this, but that's a different story for a different day.) Or, Werner gets away from us, we extend Allen and set Griffin to be his heir apparent while also extending Robison, rolling with what's been working while awaiting the approaching dawn.
Of course there are a variety of other scenarios. What do you think could happen?