This much Jared Allen knows: He’s a Viking for at least one more season, and when fall comes, he’ll be ready.
It’s a Monday in May and Jared Allen is reciting from the Book of Herm. ¶ “You always have to ask, ‘Do you love football or do you love what football gives you?’ ” ¶ The adage is borrowed from Herm Edwards, Allen’s head coach during his final two seasons in Kansas City. But this is the question the Vikings’ Pro Bowl defensive end is reminding himself to consider more as his career heads for an uncertain finishing stretch.
All in all, Allen feels terrific. He’s re-energized. He’s dedicated. He’s eyeing a dominant 2013 and believes he has three or four more good seasons left.
But there is also an intriguing subplot lurking.
In April, Allen turned 31. Two months earlier, he had surgeries to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a meniscus problem in his right knee.
And, oh yeah, he has entered the final year in his six-year contract.
So with all factors considered, could this really be Jared Allen’s last season as a Minnesota Viking? A farewell tour?
To be clear, that’s not Allen’s desire. But it could be his reality. Which is why he refuses to spend much time thinking about life beyond January.
“I pray about it,” Allen said.
“I talk to my wife. And we’ll end up going where the good Lord takes us. But I don’t know where that path is headed.”
Ask Allen where he envisions himself a year from now and he’s only being honest declaring he has “absolutely no idea.” Prod him for his best-case scenario and he darts around that question as if it were a heavy-footed left tackle.
“Best-case scenario would have been that we would have never gotten to this point,” Allen said. “Best-case scenario would have been the organization would have gotten something done [on an extension] a few years back.
“Well ya know what? That’s not the case. And I understand it. … I’m just happy I’m in a spot where both sides are honoring the contract.”
That contract will pay Allen more than $14.2 million this season. But that also presents the awkward Catch-22. If Allen performs up to that level, the Vikings might have trouble affording the cost to re-sign him.
And if he delivers a subpar season by his standards, the team will have added incentive to find a younger, cheaper replacement.
Allen knows he won’t have full say in where his career finishes. But he does have control over the production he delivers this fall. Which is why he feels a renewed determination to get into the best shape possible.
Shouldering the load
Now in the final stages of his shoulder rehabilitation, Allen feels strong again. Leaner. More refreshed.
Those are all feelings that faded in 2012.
In Week 1, Allen says, he hurt his knee but was “too stubborn to get it checked out,” instead pressing through the discomfort for the next four months.
Even before that, the labrum tear in his shoulder began to worsen. Allen was no longer able to train the way he likes. In the weight room, he often couldn’t squat, unable to get his arm behind his head with the shoulder supporting the weight. Worse, the shoulder pain made nights miserable.
“I’d toss and turn all night, every night,” he said. “You get a couple hours of sleep and then you wake up. And it’s this throbbing, pulsating deep pain like somebody has an ice pick in your shoulder.”
In the last month or so, Allen’s normal sleep has returned, fueling his exuberance. Which is why he has such spirit about attacking his contract year.
“I kind of feel like I hold all the cards in that aspect,” Allen said. “And if it doesn’t work out with the Vikings, I’m not too worried that I won’t be able to find a job, ya know?”
For a beloved and hard-working star who has recorded 74 of his 117 career sacks as a Viking, Allen seems like the last player who’d need to worry about job security. But this is the NFL. And just two months ago, Allen was both stunned and deflated when cornerback Antoine Winfield, 35, was abruptly released.
“Especially with the way he played last year,” Allen said. “You’d have thought, heck if Antoine wants to stay around, he’s sticking around no matter what the cost is. But sometimes you forget what the business of football is.”
Five weeks later, fellow defensive lineman Kevin Williams, 32, had his contract restructured with more than $2.5 million lopped off his 2013 salary and the 2014 portion of his deal eliminated.
In March 2012, guard Steve Hutchinson had his six-year run as a Viking ended when his age (34), bulky contract and suddenly ordinary play convinced the team to release him.
And Allen also points to Matt Birk, whom the Vikings opted not to re-sign in 2008, ending an otherwise stellar 11-year union.
“There is a depressing side of this game,” Allen said. “Not everybody can finish it off like Ray Lewis, right?”
Very few players finish like Lewis did in February, showering in Super Bowl confetti. But it’s certainly an acceptable goal to chase. Which is why Allen has designs on making this season memorable.
He seems conflicted on how to assess his 2012, bristling at the idea that his season was ordinary. He still compiled 12 sacks and made his fifth Pro Bowl.
And, as always, Allen can quickly check off a list of sacks he should’ve had, the ones he says were in his arms. He mentions two on Andrew Luck plus a barely tardy hit on Alex Smith. There was also a sure strip sack Aaron Rodgers ducked out of and …
Well, Allen could keep going and going.
“In most players’ cases it’s the difference between five sacks and 10. Or eight and 12,” he said. “For the elite guys it’s the difference between 12, 13 or 14 and the upper teens and 20s. And that’s a big deal when you’re held to a higher standard.”
But Allen also realizes he wasn’t as disruptive as he could be last year with his injuries diminishing his explosion.
“I watch film and it is that extra inch, two inches, that little inside clear room where you have to push that guy across your body with that shoulder — it just wasn’t there last year,” Allen said. “Normally that gets you a sack versus a pressure. So you try to look at the numbers then and say OK, if I could have gotten 10 more of those on the ground, now we’re talking about NFL history.”
Allen badly wants a bigger piece of NFL history. He wants that single-season sacks record. He wants to win a Defensive Player of the Year award. He thirsts to win a Super Bowl.
With such big goals dangling and his health returning, Allen seems to be winding up to give Minnesota everything he has this season. And yes, it could be his last here.
“No one’s untouchable,” Allen said. “I get that.”