Despite numerous votes of confidence from the Vikings and defensive end Jared Allen, many fans and media types considered the signing of Allen to a six-year contract worth at least $74 million to be a risky proposition.
Allen was arrested twice for drunken driving in 2006 and served a two-game, league-imposed suspension to start the 2007 season because of those arrests. He was called a player "at risk" by Kansas City Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, a statement that put Allen and the Chiefs at odds over his future and his value to that organization.
The Chiefs eventually placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Allen, which gave him the opportunity to negotiate with other teams this offseason. The Vikings became involved and did their research on his past and the changes he made in his life.
Knowing that there would be many questions about Allen's past, Vikings coach Brad Childress took the topic head-on, addressing it by the third sentence of his introduction of Allen to the Minnesota media.
"He's a guy that readily acknowledges his past. I think he is ready to have a positive influence on this team and on this organization, both on and off the field. You all know how I feel about that," Childress said. "I think we took what we thought was a thorough process through this decision-making process. I had extensive conversations with people that raised Jared, with people that played with Jared and with people that coached with Jared. Very sensitive when you talk to a lot of different people and you're trying to pull off a deal like this that you can talk to some and you can't talk to others because as we know, information moves fast these days. But in conjunction with the positive feedback that we got from all of those people, we really felt like we have every reason to believe that this should be a good fit for us. I think he has learned from his mistakes and realizes what it takes to become positive and productive."
Several members of the front office said the Vikings didn't put anything special in Allen's contract to protect the organization financially. However, a recent report on Yahoo.com suggests that the Vikings are once again at the forefront of innovative contract language this year.
In 2006, the Vikings made national sports news for inserting a "poison pill" provision into an offer sheet with guard Steve Hutchinson so that if the Seattle Seahawks wanted to match the terms of that contract – as was their right with the transition-tagged free agent – Hutchinson's contract would be guaranteed if he were not the highest paid offensive lineman on his team in 2006. That wasn't a problem for the Vikings at the time, but the Seahawks already had tackle Walter Jones being paid more than Hutchinson was offered. After protesting the language of that offer sheet, the Seahawks eventually allowed Hutchinson to sign with the Vikings.
This time, the Vikings have begun inserting language into the contracts of their big-dollar free agents that allows roster bonuses in future years to be converted into signing bonuses, and those signing bonuses would only be guaranteed in the event of injury, not in the case of releasing a player for other reasons, according to Yahoo.com.
Since the Vikings also inserted that language into the contract of Madieu Williams and Bernard Berrian, it technically wasn't anything special that they did in Allen's contract, and that made it more plausible for Allen to sign, according to what his agent, Ken Harris, told Yahoo.
In fact, the Vikings have been placing language in contracts for years to defer portions of signing bonuses until later years, but the new twist of converting roster bonuses to signing bonuses can protect them if they want to recover bonus money if they release a player before the term of his contract is up.
In Williams' case, the Vikings gave him a $4 million signing bonus that is prorated out for the length of the six-year deal, along with roster bonuses of $4 million each in 2008 and 2009. The 2009 roster bonus has the option for the Vikings to convert it to a signing bonus.
In Berrian's contract, the Vikings gave him a $5 million signing bonus that is prorated for six years, but it is also deferred to be paid until 2010. They also gave Berrian a roster bonus of $8 million in 2008, with $2 million of that deferred until 2009 and $1 million of that deferred until 2011. A $3 million roster bonus for 2009 has the club option to guarantee it.
With Allen's contract, the Vikings gave him a signing bonus of $15.5 million that is prorated during the length of the six-year deal, and he only has one large roster bonus of $8 million in 2010. That money could be converted into a signing bonus, according to Yahoo, because roster bonus money can't be recovered. It is considered "earned" income under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement.
Allen's salary-cap hit to the Vikings will increase from $8 million in 2008 all the way up to $17 million in 2013, but his $15.5 million signing bonus and the option to convert his $8 million roster bonus in 2010 at least gives the club the ability to recover some of the money if they would terminate the contract before the length of contract has been fulfilled.
Of course, both sides hope it never comes to that. Allen said the organization did not take a gamble on him.
"I've never run from my mistakes. I've owned up to them. I've made the changes necessary to be a better man, and that's what I explained to them," he said at his introductory press conference. "Obviously we went into greater detail about it. My biggest thing is you don't have to hear me tell you how I've changed; you can come and see me live."
Vikings Protecting Themselves Contractually
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