With free agency, heavy contracts and a different style of play under new head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings' defensive line is likely to have a vastly different look in 2014.
In a session with reporters, Zimmer stressed the importance of defenders playing together as a unit and not selling out for personal statistics. Another point: Sacks may not be as prevalent from the right end position that Jared Allen has occupied for the Vikings for the last six years.
Allen is one of five defensive linemen scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent for the Vikings, along with Kevin Williams, Everson Griffen, Fred Evans and the now-released Letroy Guion.
Allen said in December that he would rather retire than accept a rotational role. But whether he fits Zimmer's system or not – and that is a legitimate question – one of the biggest issues is what Allen's expectations are, too.
"He's the free agent. He's the one that would have to decide that he wants to come back and fit into what we do and how we do it. He has to decide how much money that needs to be due for him to buy into doing that. And we're the ones that have to decide how much we want to pay him for that, too," Zimmer said. "In my opinion, Jared's an extremely, extremely great football player who has had a fantastic career, not only here, but elsewhere.
"I think it would be great for him to finish here, but I do understand the business part of all this stuff and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. Like I said before, I like to work with great football players that want to fit in, and if he wanted to do that he would be a positive influence on this football team and continue to be on the franchise. If he doesn't, then I'm happy for him. I really am."
In six seasons with the Vikings, Allen has 85½ sacks, nearly setting the NFL single-season record in 2011 with 22 sacks. But Allen also carried a salary cap number just north of $17 million last year. And he will turn 32 in April.
Kevin Williams will turn 34 before the start of the season. Zimmer placed Williams in much the same category as Allen – the asking price will help determine how realistic a return would be.
"Kevin is an outstanding player, great. Those two guys are, in my opinion, so similar in the things that they've accomplished and things they've done," Zimmer said. "Just their legacy, really, it would be an honor for me to coach them. But at the end of the day, it's still a business decision and it's a financial decision for them. They're running out of time in their careers and they need to do what's best for their families, too."
Everson Griffen is in a bit of a different category. He is coming off his rookie contract and held a cap number of less than $800,000 last year. That will change this year, getting into his second NFL contract, but he is only 26 years old and has never been a full-time starter.
"I understand he's younger and has some other qualities than the other two guys have. I'd like to get them all, but I know that's not going to happen," Zimmer said. "We're going to continue with Kevin, we're going to try to talk with Jared and we're going to try and talk to Everson. But there comes a point where the money that they're getting, or money that they're asking or money that we're willing to pay that – there's a line there somewhere. If it crosses the line on that part or if it crosses the line on how much they're willing play then we understand that it's not going to happen. But we'd like to have them if it can work out."
Buying into "the system" is a big part of it, too, and that system will change pretty dramatically under Zimmer. That's true, too, with the techniques and responsibilities of the defensive linemen.
"I've always taken guys in Cincinnati, Dallas, and gotten them to believe that this is the right system for them. I've always used guys in the right way, but I've also got them to believe that this is a team game. This isn't an individual game," Zimmer said.
Zimmer admitted there are more holes on defense than offense, but he said he "has a vision" for how the defense should look. It may not take hold immediately, but he knows the kind of players he is looking for in order to get to that place.
"We're going to get this thing going the right way and we're going to continue to build it with a foundation and doing it the right way and we're going to continue to do it the right way," he said. "But the first thing is getting the right guys in here and then continuing to build it correctly and not talk guys into coming back or overpaying in free agency or taking reaches, going in different places in the draft. We want to get the best football players in here."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Money, ‘buy-in' factors on Zimmer's D-line
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