Jared Allen razzed his teammates and bounced around the practice field in a playful manner, which seemed odd considering the Vikings’ season was completely in the dumps.
It was late November and the Vikings had only two victories. This was a Wednesday, a day NFL players dread because their bodies still ache but they’re back at work after a mandatory day off.
Allen was in rare form.
“Let’s go,” he yelled. “It’s Bears week!”
Allen loved those two games every season, and now every week is Bears week for him. The former Vikings defensive end remained in the NFC North after signing a four-year contract with the Bears worth $32 million, $15.5 million of it guaranteed.
That’s a lot of money for a guy who turns 32 next week and has a lot of miles on his tires. The Vikings didn’t make the wrong decision in declining to re-sign Allen this offseason; likewise, the Bears made the right decision in luring him to the Windy City to replace Julius Peppers as a pass-rushing specialist.
Allen’s cowboy personality and relentless attitude will score points in a market that Mike Tice once referred to as a “tough-guy town.” Allen did not miss a game in his six seasons with the Vikings. He played more than 1,000 snaps in five of those seasons, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Allen rebuffed coaches who desperately wanted to reduce his workload, and he played injured, once delaying a surgery until after the season. He put forth the same consistent effort in good seasons and miserable ones. He never cheated the Vikings, or fans.
Allen will bring energy, an edge pass rush and a figurative kick in the pants to a Bears defense that rivaled the Vikings in ineptitude last season.
The key unknown at this point is Allen’s exact role and whether the Bears intend to reduce his playing time. Allen still commands extra attention as a pass rusher, but it’s probably unwise to allow him to continue to play 65 snaps a game. Convincing him of the law of diminishing returns will require some concession on Allen’s part, too.
The NFL has a way of humbling players on the wrong side of age 30, especially those who have achieved a certain stature, but Allen is not running on empty, as some suggest. He takes particular pride in his fitness and offseason training regimen. A new team and change of scenery should help invigorate him even more at this stage of his career.
Reports surfaced recently that Allen was considering retirement if he didn’t attract what he deemed a suitable offer in his first taste of free agency. That possibility always seemed far-fetched because Allen still loves the game and still believes he performs at an elite level.
That message resonated unmistakably during a half-hour conversation with Allen and veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams near the end of their tenure together last season.
“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. 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.”
Allen’s legacy and obsession with sacks feed his desire to remain an elite pass rusher. He keeps the NFL’s all-time sack list in his locker as a constant reminder of the history he’s chasing. His 128 ½ sacks put him No. 12 on that list and he needs only 13 more to catch Michael Strahan for No. 5 all time.
Will the sight of Allen performing his calf-roping routine in a Bears uniform take some getting used to? Sure. But his departure from Winter Park became inevitable. Both sides needed a fresh start.
The Vikings wanted to get younger on defense and to see if Everson Griffen can fulfill his potential. Allen gave the organization six entertaining and productive seasons and then left on amicable terms. The Vikings turned the page and Allen found a new home.
Who can be mad at that?