Snap Judgments: Allen trade is high risk, high reward for Vikes
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we dip under the 72-hour mark counting down to the NFL's big pick-fest in New York, New York....
A couple things appear abundantly clear in the wake of the Jared Allen trade to Minnesota: The Chiefs made an exceptional deal for themselves, and the Vikings took a costly and potentially risky step that could elevate them to the level of legitimate contenders for the NFC title.
First, the Vikings' side of the blockbuster deal. The acquisition of Allen clearly represents a risk. But there is some confusion about how much of a gamble it was for Minnesota to give up three high draft picks for him, making him the league's most highly paid defensive player in the process, courtesy of a six-year, $74 million deal that includes $31 million guaranteed.
The obvious question mark in regards to Allen, 26, are his two DUI convictions while in Kansas City, the second of which resulted in a four-game league suspension in 2007, which was subsequently reduced to two games by commissioner Roger Goodell. Much of the debate regarding the wisdom of Minnesota paying so high a price for Allen is sure to center on the question of whether he's only one more mistake away from incurring a mandatory year-long league suspension under the terms of the league's substance abuse policy?
One league source told SI.com on Wednesday that Allen's two strikes in the program get wiped off the books if he stays incident free through September, at which time his most recent DUI will be two years old. He would then be out from under the threat of a year-long league suspension if he incurred another DUI after September, the source said. But that scenario could not be confirmed by an NFL spokesman Wednesday, leaving it uncertain whether Allen is a high risk for a career-interrupting suspension.
Perhaps it will turn out that the Vikings are not taking quite the gamble on Allen that some might assume. Minnesota is said to be convinced the signs of maturity that Allen started showing in Kansas City in the past year-plus have taken root and he has become someone worth betting on. To that end, Minnesota did nothing out of the ordinary to protect itself in his new precedent-setting contract. There are only the standard clauses within the deal that would allow the team to recoup some of the money if Allen incurs a significant suspension or violates his contract in some way, but no extraordinary steps were taken to safeguard the organization.
I am convinced of this much: With Allen in its lineup, Minnesota has moved significantly this offseason to close the gap on Green Bay in the NFC North, and even position itself as one of the favorites in the NFC. On offense, Brett Favre's retirement gives the Vikings hope that they no longer have a huge deficit in the quarterback comparison with the defending division champions. Tarvaris Jackson may still be a question mark, but so too is Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers at this point. And Minnesota clearly has the most exciting young playmaker in the NFC North in second-year running back Adrian Peterson.
But it's on defense where the Vikings' advantage may now be the most dramatic. Allen's impact as a pass rusher and playmaker should only be enhanced playing alongside Minnesota's Pro Bowl defensive tackle tandem of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, who make up the best defensive line interior in the league. Allen's speed rushing game is going to thrive in the one-on-one situations that he's likely to see, and it should make the Packers even more determined to get a little younger at offensive tackle, where Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are both entering their ninth NFL seasons.
On the field, Allen could certainly be the final piece of a defensive puzzle that elevates Minnesota's front seven from very good to near dominant. With a little more production from Jackson and a receiving corps that has gained ex-Bear Bernard Berrian, the Peterson-led Vikings offense may not have to improve greatly to transform Minnesota from 8-8 in '07 to a 10- or 11-win playoff team this season. With Allen on board in Minnesota and Favre gone from Green Bay, the Packers can't expect to win the division by five games again. In the NFC North, it looks like Green Bay is coming back to the pack.
As for the Chiefs' side of the trade, it's hard to imagine how they scarcely could have extracted more for a player who had vowed not to sign a long-term deal with the team after being franchised this offseason. Kansas City held firm and got Minnesota's first-round pick and two third-round selections this year, and also picked up five slots in the sixth round by swapping spots with the Vikings.
With six of the first 82 selections -- or one every 13½ picks or so -- the Chiefs now join the Falcons (five of the first 68 picks) as the two teams that own the top of this weekend's draft. Kansas City couldn't have dreamed for much more of a boost toward its goal of undertaking a massive youth program than sitting on two first-rounders (Nos. 5 and 17), a second-round selection (No. 35), and three thirds (Nos. 66, 73 and 82). The Chiefs have a league-high 13 picks overall, and that's a jackpot in today's NFL. If they choose wisely -- always a big if -- this draft should be remembered as the foundation of their rebuilding efforts.
Losing Allen, the league's reigning sacks leader, is undoubtedly a blow to the talent level of Kansas City's roster. But sending him to a team in the opposing conference in exchange for a mid first-round pick and two more selections in the third round is a case of the Chiefs making the best of a bad situation. They maximized their return on Allen (and then some) when his value was at its highest point yet, rather than risk losing him for considerably less at a later date. All indications pointed toward K.C. losing Allen next year if they weren't prepared to go the franchise-tag route again, so the Chiefs did the smart thing and took the best deal they could get. Some would even say they picked the Vikings pocket in the process.
But the Chiefs can now in some order address their needs at offensive tackle, defensive end, guard, cornerback and receiver, all in the first three rounds if things break well for them. And they certainly have the ammunition to make their two first-round picks, and then trade back into the lower portion of the first round for a quarterback like Chad Henne, Joe Flacco or Brian Brohm if they decide Brodie Croyle is not everything they thought he was.
Win-win trades can often be overstated. But this one has a chance to make a big impact in both Kansas City and Minnesota.