Center John Sullivan was set to become a free agent at season's end. Not anymore. This afternoon the Vikings announced they had signed Sullivan to a lucrative contract extension, a five-year deal reportedly worth $25 million with $10 million guaranteed.
How's that for a vote of confidence?
Originally drafted in the sixth round in 2008, Sullivan is in his fourth season with the team and has been an anchor on the offensive line all season, starting 12 of 13 games. Throughout this season, Sullivan has impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic and consistent play. The organization has now rewarded him, investing in the 6-foot-4-inch, 301-pound lineman as a way of building for the future.
We caught up with Sullivan this afternoon to gauge his thoughts on the deal.
First and foremost, can you describe the fulfillment of this deal and the satisfaction that comes with knowing you'll be here with the Vikings for the foreseeable future?
Sullivan: It’s very humbling. I couldn’t be any happier than I am. I look at the contract and what it says to me is that the Vikings have faith in what I can do and I’m going to be a Viking long-term. Those two things make me incredibly happy. It’s a great feeling and a great day.
What is it you hope can be built here? Obviously with a nucleus of young playmakers like Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and Christian Ponder, there's a nucleus that provides reasons for hope. What are your thoughts on the future?
Sullivan: I think this team has a bright future. I know that may be hard to see right now based on what our record is. But I truly believe we’ve improved throughout the course of the season. And we have so many close losses that at some point we’re going to do what it takes to make those few extra plays it takes to win those games. Then all of a sudden it will be a totally different story. Obviously I haven’t had a particularly long career yet. But I’ve been to a championship game and know what it takes to get there. And the difference between that  season and 2-11 is not all that much. You need to win the close games for starters. And that’s something I feel we can build upon in the future.
What do you sense the Vikings saw in you to give you this extension and where have you seen the most growth in your play this season?
Sullivan: To be honest, my main goal has been to go out there and play as consistently as possible. I think one of the biggest things this season is that I’m healthy and I’ve just been trying to do my job all the time and work within our system. I’m not trying to do anything crazy or beyond what I’m capable of and I haven’t tried to do anybody else’s job either. I’ve just been focused on going out there and executing on each and every play and concentrating on what the coaches ask of me to help us win. That’s where the focus has been this season. And I think playing for Coach [Jeff] Davidson [the Vikings' offensive line coach] and a coaching staff that’s trying to put us in the best position possible to be successful has helped me with doing that.
Where have you noticed improvement in your game this year?
Sullivan: I think I’ve improved across the board for sure. But being healthy has a lot to do with that. Coaching has a lot to do with it. And then being a year older and physically more mature has had quite a bit to do with it for sure.
What have you enjoyed most and found most beneficial about working with Coach Davidson?
Sullivan: Our coaching staff on offense tries to put our offensive line in position where we can go out and play aggressively and really take it to teams in the run game. When you have backs like Adrian [Peterson] and Toby [Gerhart] and an offense that’s designed to run the ball, it’s great when the coaches take the reins off and don’t make things overly complicated. They just let you go out there and play as hard as possible. Our coaching staff has done that. I think we’ve seen improvements in protection throughout the year. And that’s only going to get better as the offensive line continues to play together and Christian gains more experience.
When you hear the financial numbers of this deal, how do you process that part of it?
Sullivan: You realize that football is a business and there will always be that part of it. But quite honestly the main thing that I’m happy about is that I’m going to be a Minnesota Viking long term. That means the most of anything in this whole deal. This is the organization that drafted me and I owe them so much for that. And now they’ve put their faith in me to be their center for the long haul now. I couldn’t be happier for that vote of confidence. And even though it’s a 2-11 season right now, I’m going to be here for the long term to help turn things around. I’m so excited about that.
Still, when you hear five years, $25 million with $10 million guaranteed, that has to put a big smile on your face, right?
Sullivan: I can’t complain.