In the days leading up to the 2008 draft, when word got out that Kansas City was willing to trade disgruntled defensive end Jared Allen, the Vikings were consistently the first team mentioned as a potential trade partner. The team had had considerable success in free agency in signing an impact safety (Madieu Williams) and a game-changing wide receiver (Bernard Berrian), but landing a difference-making defensive end had eluded them. The team made a push for a couple of free agents, but came away empty. Compounding matters was that former starters Erasmus James and Kenechi Udeze weren't figuring into the 2008 plans. James was still recovering slowly from a knee injury and Udeze had been diagnosed with leukemia and was assured of missing the 2008 season at a minimum.
The Vikings were desperate and the Chiefs knew it. There were many who speculated that, considering that draft picks are currency in the NFL, giving up a first-round pick and two third-rounders seemed like an awfully steep price to pay for one player – even one as talented as Allen.
Viking Update wasn't part of that call to arms. Pass-rushing defensive ends are as a fickle a first-round draft pick as any on the board on draft day. Guys who look great in college are often busts in the pro game. The Vikings had hoped they had found franchise players over the years with selections like James, Udeze, Darrion Scott, Michael Boireau, Stalin Colinet, Duane Clemons and Derrick Alexander. All were taken in the early rounds of the draft. None of them proved to be the answer to an ongoing problem.
There would be no guarantees on the first-round pick, much less two third-rounders that are often project types. In Allen, the Vikings had a young player who had led the league in sacks during his four seasons with Kansas City and was hitting his peak – not a seven-, eight- or nine-year veteran who was approaching the downside of his career. Allen was in his prime and, while it would cost considerable money to sign and keep, the Vikings felt he was worth the risk.
What they may not have known was the level to which Allen would change the team. He lived up to his hype as a pass rusher – his 14.5 sacks were the second-highest total by a Viking in 20 years, behind only the 15.5 sacks John Randle had in 1997. In his five years in the NFL, nobody has more sacks than Allen's 57.5. He also became the first player in 13 years to record two safeties in a season, which ties an all-time NFL record. In short, he lived up to every dollar he was paid in terms of his on-field performance.
But equally important was his role in the locker room. Allen is a frenetic personality that is always upbeat. He made the drudgery of training camp much more fun for his teammates, who were constantly joking and laughing in between drills. He bonded almost immediately with Pat Williams, Kevin Williams and Ray Edwards and was able to draw out their personalities. Anyone who attended the Vikings Draft Party last year immediately saw the difference in attitude. It was infectious and spread throughout the team.
But even more impressive was Allen's willingness to play through pain. He suffered a severe shoulder injury that, according to standard medical protocol, should have sidelined him for up to a month. He didn't miss a game. He took a shot to his left knee that strained his left MCL, another injury that should have sidelined him for at least a couple of games. He didn't miss any time.
Allen was everything he was advertised to be and more. Did the Vikings give up a lot to get him? Yes. But was it worth it? Nobody can make the claim that it wasn't. The Vikings' primary defensive weakness was not being able to generate a pass rush without heavy blitzing, which had put them at the bottom of the league consistently over the last four or five years. Thanks in large part to Allen, the Vikings moved up to 17th overall – still middle of the pack, but a vast improvement. With the young talent the Vikings have on defense, that ranking is expected to rise. The 2009 team may not end up being the reincarnation of the Purple People Eaters, but as the 2009 draft approaches, when the war room staff grades out positions of need, defensive line has gone from the top of the list to the bottom – thanks in large part to pulling off the trade for Allen.
Allen showed he's worth the price
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