His days at Idaho State were, in NFL years, close to a couple of lifetimes ago. But Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said it sure doesn’t feel that way.
“I tell you what,” the 10-year veteran said on Friday, “it feels like yesterday that I got drafted [in 2004]. Then, you blink your eyes and people are starting to talk about the end of your career.”
In Allen’s case, it’s not the end of a career but the end of an era that has people talking. His six-year, $73.5 million deal, which was the richest ever signed by an NFL defensive player at the time, expires in five weeks.
“If I have to leave here, it would be tough,” Allen said. “Minnesota has been great to me, great to my family. I’ve had a blast here. There are guys in this locker room who are like family to me.
“But it is part of the business, and this business does change. I think people don’t realize it’s not always up to the player. I’m in a situation where both sides have let the contract play out. The Vikings will have to figure out what direction they want to go. And I’ll have to figure out what’s the best direction for myself, my family and my career. You cross those bridges when you get to them.”
The Vikings extended the contract of left defensive end Brian Robison, 30, earlier this season and will make Allen’s heir apparent on the right side, 25-year-old Everson Griffen, a high priority among players whose contracts expire after this season. Where that leaves the 31-year-old Allen will depend in part on his market value and, let’s be honest, his willingness to return to a team that’s 2-8-1 heading into Sunday’s game against the Bears (6-5) at Mall of America Field.
But, as Allen said, “Now is not the time to cross those bridges.”
With three games left at Mall of America Field, Allen was asked on Friday to reflect on his favorite Metrodome memories. He mentioned the two playoff games against Philadelphia in 2008 and Dallas in 2009. He mentioned his one and only sack against Peyton Manning and his “easiest” sack and safety when Detroit’s Dan Orlovsky accidentally stepped out of the back of the end zone in 2008. He mentioned his 4½-sack game against the Packers the night Brett Favre faced his former team for the first time in 2009.
“Heck, the whole 2009 season was phenomenal,” Allen said. “There are a lot of great memories.”
Allen also mentioned the 3½-sack game he had to reach a franchise-record 22 — a half-sack short of the NFL record — in the 2011 season finale against the Bears. Twenty-three months later, they meet again with Allen tied for 41st in the league in sacks (five) and the Bears enjoying newfound quality and continuity on the offensive line.
This past offseason, the Bears decided to flank center Roberto Garza with free agents Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson on the left and rookie draft picks Jordan Mills and Kyle Long on the right. Those five have started every game on a team that’s fourth in scoring and third behind only Denver and Detroit in fewest sacks allowed per pass play.
Allen, meanwhile, is in danger of not finishing in double digits and leading his team in sacks for the first time since he had 7½ in 2006, his third year with the Chiefs.
“It’s frustrating,” said Allen, who has seven fewer sacks than last season, when he battled shoulder and knee injuries that required offseason surgeries. “I’ve been getting there. I got dang near 30 hits  on the quarterback, I think. It would be one thing if I wasn’t getting there. At least I’m getting there.”
Allen was asked about his friendly competition with Robison, who has four sacks in the past four games to tie Allen with five, and the chance that he could lose the team sack title for the first time.
“I’ll win it,” said Allen, who has only half a sack at home this season. “Don’t worry about it. And I’ll get 10. Don’t worry about that. It’s going to happen.”
Since joining the Vikings in that April 2008 trade, Allen hasn’t missed a game while posting three of his four first-team All-Pro seasons, one of his two NFL sack titles and 83 of his 126 career sacks, including playoffs.
But don’t blink. The calf-roping celebrations with Allen in a Vikings uniform could be ending in 30 days.