MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing on with our position-by-position outlook of the Minnesota Vikings' roster. Today: the defensive ends.
The good: Brian Robison earned a contract extension in the middle of the 2013 season with probably the best performance of his career, posting a career-high nine sacks and returning a fumble 61 yards for a touchdown on Sept. 15 against the Bears. And for as much as he struggled early in the season, Jared Allen closed the year on a tear, posting 6 1/2 sacks in the Vikings' final five games to end the year with 11 1/2, surpassing the 10-sack plateau for the seventh straight season. And though Everson Griffen didn't have the breakout year the Vikings were hoping for, he still wound up with 5 1/2 sacks, forcing a fumble to close out the Vikings' first win of the year on Sept. 29 in London.
The bad: After enjoying more than a half-decade of stability at the position, the Vikings have some big decisions to make with their defensive ends. Allen hits free agency in March, after carrying a $17 million cap figure this season, and Griffen still disappeared too often to answer questions about whether he can be counted on consistently. As a result, the Vikings weren't able to get consistent pressure enough with their defensive line to control games the way they have in the past.
The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Robison ($5.3 million). Both Allen and Griffen could leave in free agency, though it seems likely the Vikings would try to bring Griffen back. They hadn't engaged in more than preliminary contract talks with him, but he's young, talented and versatile enough that it would make sense for them to give him time to work with new coach Mike Zimmer. A "prove-it" deal of two or three years could be in order for him. For Allen, though, a new destination seems likely unless he's willing to come back on a significantly reduced deal. It's likely the Vikings are looking at the end of an era with Allen.
Draft priority: Moderate. If the Vikings resign Griffen, they'd have a couple speedy rushers to work with, but they could still look for some depth at the position. It seems unlikely they would switch to a 3-4 defense, based on Zimmer saying he expected his defense would look like what he used in Cincinnati, but if the Vikings did design they wanted to switch schemes, or at least incorporate some elements of a 3-4, the draft priority at this position would climb significantly, since the Vikings would have to look for a different type of player at the position.