Crossroads for Jared Allen

There comes a point in time for every NFL player where you either stand up and deliver or become just another nobody. With OTAs set to begin on Tuesday, Chiefs' defensive end Jared Allen is about to make his first appearance on the practice field.

With a bitter taste in his mouth over a contract dispute and an eroding fan base that used to worship him, the young defensive end needs to make the right moves.

As a lifelong fan of the Chiefs, my NFL heroes come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. For a lot of fans, Allen had become one of those players who everyone can identify with. He represents a Midwest life style that is simple to follow and appreciate. His easy demeanor, outrageous game day suits, great big smile and hustle on the field make him truly one of the most likable guys on the team.

Even after two off-the-field incidents, fans continued to stand by Allen last season. Everyone in the NFL has been willing to overlook the occasional blunder by most players.

But NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell has made it clear - what you do off the field will affect your pocketbook. What Allen must now realize is the price he'll pay from the fans if he keeps up his current behavior.

Allen has $2.3 million reasons to sign his one-year contract with the Chiefs today. He'll lose a fourth of that ($575,000 to be exact) during his four-game suspension, but the difference is still a decent chunk of change.

Allen came to the Chiefs three years ago with a history of making poor decisions away from football. He was in trouble at Idaho State and that's why he slid to the fourth round of the 2004 NFL Draft.

The problem Allen faces now is sliding further down the depth chart in Kansas City. It's clear the Chiefs are planning on life after Allen with the draft selection of Tamba Hali a year ago and second-round pick Turk McBride this past April.

To even further complicate the situation, the Chiefs' Brass had been talking to the Chicago Bears about disgruntled defensive end Alex Brown. Right now, Allen isn't even on the depth chart because of his suspension.

The Chiefs have to get McBride and veteran Jimmy Wilkerson up to speed, since both will be starting options when the season begins. Allen will participate in OTAs, but the coaching staff has to make the other guys a top priority.

But for the media, Allen will be the center of attention. He still wants to be traded and has no intention of signing a long-term contract with the Chiefs.

He made his feelings known again in the local rag over the weekend – he plans on testing the free agent waters after the 2007 season. Let me be the first to wish him good luck with that. He might be surprised to learn how he's damaged his future earnings with another NFL team due to his actions over the last year.

Allen is one of the best defensive ends in the game, but he's not an elite player – at least not yet. Someday he might reach that status, and how he handles the 2007 season from this point forward will go a long way to deciding his next contract.

Don't let anyone fool you. For 99 percent of NFL players, it's about the money. Allen wants a big chunk of it right now.

And so does Allen's agent, Ken Harris, a small time player rep with a signature client in his hands. If he wants to break into big money, he needs to market his only commodity and show he can beat the odds against arguably the NFL's toughest negotiator – Carl Peterson.

For the record, I've never met Harris, but I don't like him. He reminds me of Ethan Locke. He uses the media because he has no other ammunition. He's inexperienced and not very intelligent, as he's shown by serving his own interests rather than those of his client.

To be fair, his client is worth more than the $10 million or so the Chiefs offered last February before contract talks broke down. But an experienced agent would realize the current impasse is nothing more than a line drawn in the sand. He should have acted in a responsible manner instead of pouring water over the line.

Harris has to build a name for himself, but you don't do it by over exposing the only model in your portfolio. Instead, you get him a fair deal, land more clients and build your practice. There is a reason Harris doesn't represent any high profile NFL players – he's not good at it, and obviously doesn't understand the process.

If Allen was my client, I'd tell him he screwed up his career by getting arrested twice. I would have enrolled him in a counseling program and asked the Chiefs for help in getting my client back on the right road.

Then I would have talked to Carl Peterson and told him I was going to do everything in my power to make sure my client gets his priorities straight. I would have told Peterson that Allen's actions affected his financial future, and we're in no position to demand an eight-year, $50 million contract (which Harris did last February).

Instead, let's set some parameters for a long-term contract based on what Allen does in the offseason and on the field after his suspension. Let's create an endgame and reward my client based on living up to those parameters.

Instead, Harris told Allen to go public and demand a trade. Dumb, to say the least.

This is a contract stalemate. The organization has to be conservative with Allen because of his arrests. The NFL is breathing down their neck with Goodell's new policy. The Chiefs have a lot to lose if they pay Allen all that money. One more slip up and he could be suspended for an entire season. What do the Chiefs do then?

One way or another, this will be a distraction for Allen this week. Reporters will be all over him, attempting to clarify the situation – does he really want out of Kansas City?

Meanwhile, once the kid from Tennessee gets his first sack in the preseason, the fans will realize McBride is the future.

Allen and Harris will then have to deal with damage control, but it will be too late. Allen's value will plummet. NFL teams who might be interested in 2008 will remember not only the way Allen handled this mess, but Harris, who blew his chance of becoming a semi-respectable agent in the future.

If Harris truly believes he's smarter than the Chiefs and Peterson, he's mistaken. Just ask Ethan Locke, who now is a third wheel in the company he started years ago when he represented John Tait. There isn't an NFL General Manager who'll talk numbers with him anymore. Harris is in the same mold. He's a grandstander who has corrupted a good young player – all for his own greed.

Now is the time for Allen to be humble, gracious and repentant. He must apologize to the fans, his teammates and the organization that gave him a chance after every team passed on him early in the 2004 draft.

It's time for Allen to grow up and hire an agent that will look out for his long term future – instead of one trying to make a quick buck.

For advice, he should seek out Tony Gonzalez, who will retire a Chief when it's all said and done. Allen has that same opportunity if he starts taking responsibility for his career, instead of being led down a path that will end without a big contract.

If that happens, he'll have only himself to blame - because the Chiefs will have already moved on – if they haven't already.

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