EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As the Minnesota Vikings' season draws closer to an end, Jared Allen's weekly news conferences feel more and more like a valedictory address. Allen is 31, will hit free agency this spring after carrying a $17 million salary cap figure this season and is playing on a team that already gave fellow defensive end Brian Robison a contract extension.
Essentially, Allen's days in Minnesota appear to be almost up, and he seems to know it. What remains to be seen is what kind of a reception he'll get on an open market that hasn't been terribly friendly to veteran pass-rushers in recent years.
We've talked about the modest deals Dwight Freeney and John Abraham found in free agency in recent years, and while Allen is younger than both players were when they hit the market, he's also fighting a perception that he's lost a step. Allen has seven sacks this season, and is in danger of not reaching double digits for the first time since 2006, though as Allen pointed out, he's among the league leaders in quarterback hits and hurries. But those things are often byproducts of a sack, when a pass-rusher isn't able to get there quite soon enough.
"Me and 'B-Rob' were laughing about it today," Allen said. "The (league) lead is 15 (1/2 sacks, by Indianapolis' Robert Mathis). I said, 'If we would take the ones that we had in our hands that we either missed or (we) knocked the guy and the ball falls forward, which is an incomplete pass versus a sack/fumble, I think we both would be sitting right around 12 or 13.' But again, that's kind of what football is. I look back at the year I had 22 (in 2011). You just didn't miss an opportunity. Boom, you got them on the ground."
Allen said he's still grading out well, taking into account how he plays against the run, how many passes he's able to knock down, etc. But he's always been defined by his sack totals, and Allen knows it. He said getting to double digits "means the world to me," and he needs three to pass Derrick Thomas for 13th place on the NFL's career sack list.
Where he'll be climbing that list next year is anyone's guess, especially after Allen said on Thursday he wouldn't accept a role as a rotational pass-rusher. "(I'll keep playing) as long as I feel good and compete at a strong level and I feel like I can still help a team win and be an active (participant). I'll retire vs. taking a step-down role and being a rotate guy. That's for the birds."
Teams might have a different perception of Allen next spring, and it remains to be seen what he'd accept if he can't find a suitor to treat him (and pay him) like a three-down lineman. But Allen still feels he'd be worth the investment.
"I'm playing good ball. I watch film. I'm probably more critical on myself than anybody can be," Allen said. "I'm there. It'd be one thing if you weren't there. ... I'd be telling myself if wasn't playing good ball. Technique's still good. I still know how to process things."