A few hours after he signed a six-year, $73 million contract with the Vikings in April 2008, Jared Allen dined at an Eden Prairie restaurant with new teammates Kevin and Pat Williams and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
Allen feasted on shrimp and listened to the banter between the Williams Wall and Dunbar, their mediator. Rapid-fire Pat did most of the talking, but, as Allen remembers, “You couldn’t really understand what he was saying.”
Allen loved it, though. He felt right at home in that tight circle, unencumbered by any nervousness of being the new guy with the mega-contract.
“I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to like these guys,’ ” he said.
As Pat Williams enjoys retirement, the odd couple of Allen and Kevin Williams remains intact, at least for the balance of this season. Those two have been fixtures on the right side of the Vikings defensive line.
Since 2008, they have played 94 games together, including playoffs, and shared roughly 5,200 snaps. They’ve collected multiple All-Pro nominations and trips to the Pro Bowl in careers that deserve Hall of Fame consideration.
They are so in tune with each other’s moves and way of thinking that they often communicate on the field with a simple nod. They’ve become close friends off the field, both married with children, though their personalities could not be more different. Allen is loquacious, Williams uses words as if he’s on a pitch count.
Now, both face uncertain futures as this disappointing season nears completion. Williams and Allen will become free agents at season’s end, and the Vikings likely will look to get younger and cheaper at their positions.
The team drafted rookie Sharrif Floyd in the first round to be Williams’ successor at tackle. And the Vikings might opt to re-sign backup Everson Griffen to replace Allen at end.
The only certainty is that Williams and Allen have three games left as tag-team partners, but they refuse to concede anything just yet.
“Everybody seems like they’re building it up like it’s the end of the road and we might not play again,” Williams said. “It was weird when Pat left, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be weird when we both are not playing together, either. But we haven’t really [talked about it].”
At age 33, Williams is the team’s oldest player and finishing his 11th season. Allen is 31 and in danger of failing to reach double digits in sacks for the first time since 2006.
But both scoff at the suggestion that they’re incapable of playing at an elite level at this stage of their careers. Allen said he would retire if a team asked him to rotate with somebody.
“I don’t think either of us is at a point where we want to accept lesser roles anywhere,” Allen said. “I still think I’ve got plenty of good football left in me. … Being at the end of our deals, it’s one of those things where you can get caught in the hype. But you know what? You put that tape on and it doesn’t lie. We’re still smashing quarterbacks. Maybe we don’t have the sack numbers that we’ve had, but the disruptions are there. We’re still competing.”
The two met briefly at the Pro Bowl one year, but they didn’t know each other before Allen arrived in a trade with Kansas City. Williams knew of Allen’s reputation as a pass rusher. The Vikings took pride in owning the NFL’s best run defense at the time, so Kevin and Pat made sure Allen understood that responsibility.
“They started busting my hump, [saying], ‘You know, we play the run over here at Minnesota. You have to knuckle up,’ ” Allen recalled.