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Project 2012: Jared Allen

"...and then I'm gonna sack you, then you, and then're cool, then I'm gonna sack you. I'm out."
"...and then I'm gonna sack you, then you, and then're cool, then I'm gonna sack you. I'm out."

The 2011 season mercifully came to an end almost a full week ago, which means we can officially focus all of our attention on looking towards next year. (Some of us were doing this by Week 10. Understandable.) Since the tied-for-franchise-worst 3-13 campaign has concluded, the Vikings have been busy. They already have a (kinda sorta) new GM. They are apparently looking into a new Defensive Coordinator. But if this team wants to get out of the doldrums of the standings, it will all come down to the players on the field.

One of the best players the Vikings currently have on the field is Jared Allen. This is an immutable law--the All-Pro defensive end is among the league's elite. Nobody doubts that.

As we embark on our first Project 2012 post that's actually in 2012, we're not bringing Allen's ability into question. However, we will ask a very difficult question--would trading Jared Allen help the Vikings become a better team faster than keeping him?

At first glance, I thought it was a dumb question. In my mind, anything short of a sequel to the Herschel Walker trade couldn't possibly give the Vikings enough in return. The guy missed the single-season sack record* by the slimmest of margins in a year where his secondary covered opposing receivers like they were in those Atlasphere balls from American Gladiators. His "motor" can't really be called a motor--that implies the opportunity of running out of gas. Allen never does. He's a vocal leader in the locker room and one of the two players on the team that are considered faces of the franchise. How could a few draft picks replace that?

While Allen is irreplaceable, we know how bad the 2011 Vikings were. Like "I might tell my kids about this season when they complain about losing a couple games in a row" bad. Like "If we replaced the entire secondary and offensive line I'd kind of miss exactly two players" bad. Like "We had two of the best players in the NFL and we still lost 13 games" bad. It's no stretch to assume that the 2012 Vikings will look very different from this year's version. Hell, most fans will be upset if there aren't tons of changes. And what better way to make changes than by getting a multitude of draft picks and/or players for one of the NFL's elite? We can all agree that Allen is awesome, but unfortunately he can't play cornerback, safety, wide receiver, or left tackle. (OK, after seeing him flawlessly handle long snapping duties this year he probably could play all those positions pretty well, but he couldn't play them all at the same time.)

One thing I will concede is that Allen's trade value will probably never be higher. He just turned the "spooooky" age of 30 and it will be tough to top what he did this year. He would command quite a ransom if teams knew that he was available. Especially teams with a lot of early draft picks that need an elite pass rusher to shore up their defense. (Psst: I'm talking about New England.) If someone came along and gave the Vikings a Godfather offer, they would have to at least strongly consider it, right?

I'll admit that it's hard to rationally discuss the possibility of one of my favorite players leaving. Jared Allen doesn't just dominate on the gridiron; he dominates life in general. From the funny quotes to his weekly radio spots to his community service to his Samson-like facial hair and mullet, there's always that fan sentiment to keep him no matter what. But in this case I think it makes total sense to keep Allen around for the next few years. As Chris pointed out earlier today, many elite defensive linemen have enjoyed success well into their 30's. I think the Vikings should build around The Mulleted One in the draft and free agency. With so much uncertainty heading into the 2012 season, it would be nice to be certain that #69 will still be flying off the edge and terrorizing quarterbacks.

But that's just me. Here's what the other DN writers had to say:

Chris: Personally, I don't see much of a point to trading Jared Allen. Yes, he's getting older, to be certain, but he's also coming off of what might be the best season for a pass rusher in the history of the league. Pass rushers can be effective for a long time in the National Football League...look no further than Chris Doleman, the man whose record Allen broke on Sunday. Doleman played until he was 38 years old. From the season where he turned 30 to the season that he turned 38, he averaged nearly 11 sacks a season, including a 15-sack season in his second-to-last year in the NFL at the age of 37. So, the "age" argument doesn't hold a lot of water with me. Jared Allen has the sort of work ethic that, I feel, is going to allow him to be good for a very long time.

The man is the best in the league at what he does...for crying out loud, the man got 22 sacks on a pass defense that allowed the second-highest opposing QB rating (107.6) not in the NFL this year, but in the history of the National Football League. Imagine what kind of terror the man would be if he had any support at all from the Vikings' secondary? That's exactly why you don't trade are never, ever going to get anything close to equal value for a player of Allen's caliber. Sure, trading him away for draft picks sounds like a nice idea and all, but again, you're not going to get enough compensation to make it worthwhile.

To illustrate the risk of that, let's go back to the year Minnesota made the trade for Allen. The Vikings sent the Kansas City Chiefs a first-round pick and two third-round picks for a player in Allen that had proven himself on an NFL field. In that same draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars traded a first-round pick, two third-round picks, and a fourth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for the right to move up and select Derrick Harvey out of the University of Florida, who was supposed to do for their pass rush what Allen did for Minnesota's. Harvey lasted three seasons in Jacksonville, amassing all of eight sacks during that time, and got cut prior to the 2011 season.

Yes, the Vikings are rebuilding, and I understand that. However, "rebuilding" is not synonymous with "trade anybody that has any value for the rights to draft guys that might or might not work out." The Minnesota Vikings don't have a lot of sure things going into the 2012 NFL season, but Jared Allen is one of them and, barring a switch to a 3-4 defense, there is absolutely no sense in trading him away for any reason after he's just posted one of the greatest pass rushing seasons in NFL history. The suggestion of trading Jared Allen is every bit as ludicrous as a suggestion to trade Percy Harvin, and I'm pretty sure that no Viking fan would endorse that idea, either.

Ted: Wow. It's tough for me to separate the fan from the logic in looking at a trade, because well, it just is. Allen is one of those remarkable players that you love to watch play. It doesn't matter if the Vikings are up by 20 or down by 20, he's busting his ass on every play. In the brief time I got to watch the Vikes in Mankato, he was one of those guys that has an infectious personality, and really comes across as a great locker room guy and leader. So the fan in me has a kneejerk 'you can't trade him, what a stupid idea' reaction. But when I separate the emotion from it, I can understand the logic. He's approaching 30, he's at the height of his career, and you could argue you'll never get more value out of him by looking to trade him now.

But that ship sailed when the Vikings gave up a 1st and 2 thirds for him on draft day in 2008. He was in his mid 20's at the time, he had a team friendly contract (yes, it had to be renegotiated, but when he was acquired the contract wasn't an impediment and the Vikes were able to give him a new deal that was still team friendly) and was just beginning to tap into his immense talent, which he realized here in Minnesota. Now he's 30, has more good years behind him than in front of him, and no team is going to give up that much for him now, especially with the contract the Vikings gave him. That's not to say that Allen still isn't the premier defensive end in the NFL; on the contrary I think this year proved that he is more than ever. But just because he's a great player on a bad team, that doesn't mean we should trade away every single bit of talent on the roster just to amass draft picks.

I'm fully aware that the Vikings need a lot of help in several areas to get better, but I look at trading Allen as a a case of making the Vikings weaker without getting stronger. They still need playmakers to build around, and Allen can not only play, he can teach the infusion of young talent that this team how to be a true professional--how to study film, how to practice, how to prepare.

No, keep Allen and give him some help.

Mark: I think that Allen's value will never get higher considering he will be 30 to start next season. What is more important though is his contract which calls for $11,619,850 in 2012 and $14,280,612 in 2013. Also, since he received a $15.5 million signing bonus, there will be am extra cap hit of $2.583 mil or $3.1 mil depending on how many years they spread out the bonus. This is a huge number counting against the cap. It is one the team could absorb though if they release some players who are not worth what they are set to receive next year. I think trading Allen does have merit and is a serious discussion. Some fans seem to be emotionally attached to players and it makes the debate difficult. But with Everson Griffen looking pretty good whenever he gets the chance and the team needing to get him on the field, moving Allen for a first is a viable option. I do not think they will get much more than a first though. Maybe a conditional 4th in 2013 as well? I know they cannot replace his production but they are going to have to eventually anyway. Since we are rebuilding why not add another first rounder and roll with Griffen? That does not scare me at all. I also believe that if the Vikings switch to the 3-4 defense that Allen has already said he is not interested in that option. So they may have to trade him if they make that move. I think the switch is not a bad idea either especially when you look at all the 3-4 defensive players coming out of college lately. I think that is a trend that is not going to reverse. Just look at the rankings for DEs, DTs, and LBs and you will see plenty of top guys projected for the 3-4 defense as opposed to the 4-3 defense. I think the team does have players already that they can use in this defense. They have Kevin Williams and Christian Ballard who can play the 3-4 DE spots. They have Remi Ayodele who can play the NT spot but would need another. Maybe they sign Paul Soliai from the Dolphins. He is 6-4, 355 and only 28 years old. They can add a beast in the draft too and possibly let Ayodele go. They have Robison and Griffen who can possibly play the 3-4 OLB/DE spots. Maybe they also draft Donta Hightower too. They have Chad Greenway and Jasper Brinkley to play the inside LB spots and should resign Erin Henderson and let him play the inside spot and keep Brinkley as a backup. They can resign Letroy Guion to back up the DE spots and will need another if Reed is not an option.

If the Vikings keep Allen and stick with the 4-3 defense then they need to extend his contract a couple of years to lower that cap hit.

Kyle: First off, to piggy-back a bit off what Mark said, I think it's important to note that Kevin Williams has also spoken against a change to 3-4. That means our two key D-linemen don't want it, which further signals to me that it won't be happening, at least not in the next season or two. Frazier himself has also said he's not a big proponent of that change, so I do believe the whole '3-4' thing is somewhat immaterial in regards to discussing Jared Allen. Granted, if I'm wrong, then that does become the primary speaking point.

Now, assuming we stay at 4-3, I do agree that Jared Allen is a difficult guy to remove 'emotion' from when talking about his future. Full disclosure--Jackass 3 was on the other night and I got to watch Allen sack Jonny Knoxville again, so now I'm probably at a point where I can't divorce emotion from it. That said, and I've said this before, I don't think trading Jared Allen at this point in time is a good idea. Yes, his trade value has never been higher and probably never will be higher--I do think we could net a first rounder from some teams for him. Like I suggested with KWill, I think we could easily get a first rounder from New England for him, especially if that Achilles heel that is their defense costs them in the playoffs. However, I'm not willing to do that to our team. Right now Allen is about 50% of our defense. Without a secondary, we need a forceful pass rush, and Allen gives us that in spades. Of course, we're all hoping the secondary gets a major overall and upgrade this offseason, but there's no guarantees. If we take such a big piece out of our defense now, we put even MORE pressure on out offense, and I don't think that's such a good idea now, considering we're trying to develop two QBs, one who currently is in a state of semi-shell shock.

I can honestly say I think I am speaking without emotion when I say that trading him away is a bad idea. I could be convinced otherwise should someone prove to me we would get someone better in the trade, be it outright or through the traded pick, or at least someone as good but younger; of course, however, it goes without saying you can't prove that in terms of the draft, and I'm not sure who I see around the league that I would be willing to make that trade for, except someone perhaps like Larry Fitzgerald, or another player of such caliber that their team wouldn't ever trade them anyways.

So that's what we had to say about it--how about you? Let us know in the poll and comments below.