In the strike year of 1987, Kirk Lowermilk became the starting center for the Vikings. He would hold the job for six years. One year after Lowdermilk was done with the Vikings, Jeff Christy took over in 1994. He kept the starting job for the next six years. Next came a sixth-round pick from Harvard – a local boy named Matt Birk. He became the starter in 2000 and would remain so for the next nine years.
Looking to remain ahead of the curve, in a draft largely forgotten by casual Vikings fans, John Sullivan became the next man up in the impressive lineage of Vikings centers.
The Vikings made a deal with Sullivan earlier this month, adding a year to the two that he had remaining on his current contract, extending his deal out through 2017.
“When the team was receptive, it was definitely something we were focused on doing,” Sullivan said. “We had two years left, but if you get to the end of this season, then you’re staring at the last year of a contract – a second contract – in the face. Obviously, there’s a business side of football and this keeps everything amicable. The Vikings put faith in me. I know what I need to do in return.”
If not for the Jared Allen trade, Sullivan might not have ended up a Viking. Fans remember the 2008 draft for its inactivity. Giving up a first-round and two third-round picks to land the Pro Bowl defensive end, the Vikings made just one pick in the first four rounds of the draft.
One of the give-backs for the high-round picks that Vikings sent Kansas City’s way to acquire Allen was getting a sixth-round pick in return – a lower sixth-rounder than the Vikings had. With the 187th pick, the Vikings selected Sullivan and the rest is history.
Having learned from Birk’s experience – he got to the final year of his contract and things got a little contentious – Sullivan was receptive to adding another year with $1 million guaranteed to his contract. Much like the Vikings had done with Christy when they drafted Birk as his eventual replacement, the handwriting was on the wall that Sullivan would be the heir apparent to Birk’s throne.
Birk held out of OTAs, honored the final year of his contract and the Vikings let him walk in free agency just as they had done a decade earlier with Christy.
Sully wasn’t going to let that happen to him.
“In 2008 I saw when Matt Birk got to the last year of his deal. Wasn’t at OTAs, it came down to he played out that contract and ended up moving on,” Sullivan said. “Being able to come to an agreement with the Vikings just puts that off another year. Hopefully, the extension keeps me here through the 10th year of my career, and my goal is to retire as a Minnesota Viking.”
He sees that he has plenty of good football left in him and wants to end his career as a Viking. Adding a year on to the end of his deal helps accomplish that, even though he wants to play beyond 2017.