Two years ago, Jared Allen flirted with breaking Michael Strahan’s NFL sack record, finishing the season just a half-sack shy of the mark at 22 (partly thanks to Aaron Rodgers who at one point fumbled a ball on purpose rather than give himself up for a sack).
Jared was 29 at the time and reaching the peak of his value as a defensive end. In the two years since then, Allen has steadily declined, not just in total sacks but in all measures of pass rush productivity. By 2013, he had become an inconsistent player, still explosive at times but too often invisible.
Age and mileage have been blamed for Allen’s drop off. There were also injury problems, including a fairly severe shoulder/neck issue in 2012. Through it all, Allen continued logging a high number of snaps, refusing to submit to Alan Williams’ plans for a more rotational approach on the defensive line.
Would Allen’s productivity have been helped by his taking more snaps off, or was his decline attributable to more than just snap-count-related physical wear and tear plus the realities of age?
Allen would like us to think there was more to it than just him getting old and banged-up and maybe losing half a step (a fatal issue for a pure speed rusher who lacks an array of inside pass rush moves). He wants us to think it was mostly scheme that led to his drop off.
Speaking to Jason La Canfora from the combine, Allen’s rep Ken Harris made it clear who he and Jared believe are to blame for Allen’s perceived dip in value.
“There was some frustration on the part of a lot people regarding issues with the scheme there, and I think the Vikings would admit that now,” Harris said. “Jared has the same speed, the same ferocity as he always has. He’s probably even mentally sharper now than ever. So why wouldn’t it be appropriate for him to be in the top echelon of players?
“If, through the course of this fact-finding mission, anyone wants to argue that his numbers declined because he’s lost a step, and he’s 31, I’ll gladly put Jared on the phone with them, because that is most definitely not the case.”
La Canfora zeroes in on 2012 as the beginning of the problems for the Vikings’ defensive line from a schematic point of view. That happened to be the year Alan Williams was brought in as defensive coordinator, replacing Fred Pagac who spent a single season in that job – the year Allen notched 22 sacks.
2012 also saw a change in defensive line coach, from the respected Karl Dunbar to the equally-respected Brendan Daly.
If Allen did indeed experience frustration with the way the defense was being run under Alan Williams and Leslie Frazier, he never expressed it to the media, choosing instead to play the good soldier.
This coming out now looks like typical agent-speak. You can’t blame Harris for trying to deflect concerns about Allen’s age and the speed of his step, especially given Allen’s desire to score one last big contract before calling it quits. Even if it means throwing Frazier and Williams under the bus.
But the interesting part isn’t the just blame of the prior coaches. The interesting part of Harris’ remarks is the bit about the Vikings agreeing with his assessment of their schematic issues under the now-departed regime.
Clearly, Harris is trying to play nice with the Vikings, hoping the door will stay open in Minnesota. This is in line with everything we’ve heard about Allen’s feeling toward the organization.
Allen reportedly loves the Vikings and is going out of his way to keep Rick Spielman and company in the loop as he sets about shopping his services. Allen talked to the Vikings recently and according to Harris the meeting was “productive.”
Mike Zimmer, when asked about Allen, indicated that he would be open to Jared’s return, despite his age.
Reading between the lines a little, it’s plainly obvious that some serious rifts developed between coaches and front office during Leslie Frazier’s time. The game of pass-the-buck Frazier and Spielman played over the QB fiasco shortly after Frazier’s departure also spoke to this issue.
It appears Allen ended up more in Spielman’s corner than Frazier’s once the dust had settled. Now Allen is making it clear that he’s open to a return to the Vikings, if the money is right, and if he believes the team is capable of contending.
If Allen had doubts about the team’s future before, those doubts may have been assuaged by the switch from Frazier to Mike Zimmer, a guy who commands a high level of respect from just about everyone.
Of course for all we know Zimmer doesn’t even want Allen back and is just saying nice things because he has to.
There will be other free agent options out there at defensive end besides Allen, including Zimmer’s old protege Michael Johnson. Who happens to be younger, more productive and already a known quantity in Zimmer’s aggressive hybrid scheme.
Jared Allen may still love the Vikings, but with cap space plentiful in Minnesota and a whole new set of defensive minds in the fold, the Vikings may nevertheless be ready to move on from Allen.