He made it look so easy and effortless.
I'm talking about Everson Griffen's 29-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Minnesota Vikings 36-22 win over the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 15. On the play, the 6'3, 270 pound backup defensive end dropped into the shallow middle of the field, read St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford's eyes, drifted to his right to snare the pass, then accelerated past his opponents down the right sideline, stiff-arming Rams wide receiver Chris Givens for good measure, as he trotted into the end zone to give the Vikings a commanding 24-7 lead.
It was the kind of athleticism you don't see very often from a big defensive end. But as I mentioned above, Griffen looked so natural doing it, it made you wonder what he could accomplish for the Vikings if he were playing full time.
Well. we may very well find out what Griffen can do as a starter as early as 2013. But for that to happen, Griffen would have to replace one of Minnesota's current starting DEs – Jared Allen or Brian Robison. And the only way that's going to happen is if either Allen or Robison sustain 1) a season-ending injury (which would suck) or 2) one of the two is moved. As the title of my blog post has already tipped off, Vikings management might want to seriously consider the latter option.
Age and economics is putting the Vikings and Allen on this course, I think. Allen turns 31 on April 3rd and it so happens that 2013 is the final year of the six-year contract extension he signed with the Vikings in 2008. His base salary in 2013 will be $14.3 million, but his cap hit is scheduled to be $17.8 million if you take in various bonuses. Being as Allen has said nothing about retiring at the end of the 2013 season, and he'd only be 32 going into the 2014 campaign, he will be looking for one last big contract by then. And if the Vikings don't give it to him, some other team in need of a pass rusher will.
This is what makes the decision so difficult for the Vikings. There's no doubt Allen's been everything they could have hoped for when they traded three high draft picks (a 1st rounder and two 3rd rounders) to get Allen from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. His first four seasons with the Vikings have seen him notch 14.5, 14.5, 11 and 22 sacks, respectively. This year he has nine in 14 games.
But the Vikings are a team that seems to be following the Ted Thompson blueprint to success in the NFL, which is to stay young, don't tie up big money on veteran players on the wrong side of 30 and build through the draft. A quick glance at the career stats of the DEs on this list of the NFL career sack leaders (Allen is currently #16 on the list) shows that 31 is not the end of the line for pass rushers – as far as sacks go anyway. But how many elite years does Allen have left beyond 2013? Is it one year? Two? Three? The Vikings may not want to pay what Allen wants to retain him in 2014 when his "eliteness" could fall off rather quickly.
Of course, you don't want to give up an asset for nothing, either. And this is why exploring Allen's trade value during this offseason might be worthwhile for general manager Rick Spielman. Allen is still a big name. He is still productive. He would surely garner some interest from other teams if the Vikings were to let the league know he was available. You're not going to get a 1st rounder and two 3rd rounders for him like Minnesota had to fork over in 2008, but if you can get a 1st rounder or an early 2nd round pick in this year's draft, maybe that is good enough to do the deed.
This situation is made even trickier by the contract status of Robison and Griffen. Both of their deals also expire in 2013. Robison, surprisingly, will be 31 when the 2014 season starts. But he's outperformed the modest three-year, $14 million contract extension he signed after the 2010 season and could be resigned for much less coin than Allen.
Meanwhile, Griffen will only be 26 when the 2014 season rolls around and the Vikings will probably want to keep him around – but again resigning Griffen will cost them a lot less than extending Allen and the Vikes can use that money to address other issues.
As starting defensive ends, it's quite likely Robison and Griffen will never be as productive as Allen, who seems headed to the Hall of Fame. But by 2013 and 2014, Allen might not be as productive as he once was, either.
What to do with Jared Allen will surely weigh on Spielman's mind throughout the offseason.