Jared Allen says that he chose the Minnesota Vikings. The Kansas City Chiefs had taken him in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, and he played on the league minimum salary for three years. Allen signed a one-year tender as a restricted free agent in 2007, but, a year later, he wanted to get paid.
Instead, KC franchise-tagged him.
Allen wanted out, telling the Chiefs to trade him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Minnesota. Jon Gruden was coaching the Bucs in ’08 and had an impressive staff. Monte Kiffin was his defensive coordinator, Rich Bisacchia coached special teams, and Gus Bradley was in charge of linebackers. A young Sean McVay handled the receivers. Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, Chris Hovan, and a rookie Aqib Talib would have flanked him on defense.
But the Vikings were more intriguing. They had Adrian Peterson in the backfield and Pat Williams, Ray Edwards, and Kevin Williams on the defensive line. Ben Leber and Chad Greenway stood behind them, and Antoine Winfield kept opposing receivers occupied.
“This is where I wanted to be,” Allen said at the Vikings practice facility last weekend. “First of all, I never had any plans of leaving Kansas City, right? When you come into the league, you’re naive to what the league is actually about on the business side.”
The ’08 Chiefs weren’t quite the Chiefs of today. They had Tyler Thigpen under center; Dwayne Bowe was their leading receiver. In 2006, the Indianapolis Colts beat them in the wild-card round, 23-8. They won four games in ’07 and would win two in ’08.
The Vikings traded a first- and two third-round picks, plus a pick-swap in 2008, for Allen. They immediately signed him to a six-year, $73,260,069 contract. At the time, it was the richest in NFL history for a defensive player. Allen delivered on it. He made 96 starts and recorded 85.5 sacks in six seasons, and his calf-herding sack dance and cowboy persona endeared him to the Purple faithful.
“I remember, like any trade, there’s nerves and anxiousness,” said Vikings owner Mark Wilf after a practice at US Bank Stadium two weeks ago.
“We gave up some picks for him, and it was a lot of discussion about it. But it turned out to be one of the best things we did as ownership and in this franchise history, [getting] a player of his level here. Our first two seasons out of the block, we won the division. So, he made a big impact right away, and we’re fortunate it worked out.”
“This is where I wanted to come,” says Allen. “Here and Tampa. So when I got here and the trade, I think for me, obviously, the contract was important. But from the organizational standpoint, it was the commitment that they were showing to me. Because that’s what I was lacking in Kansas City, was that trust and that commitment that I was the guy moving forward.
“I just wanted to play for an organization that believed in me as much as I believe in them, and so I describe that to people. People ask what does Minnesota mean to me? It’s the relationships that form when I first started.”
Scholars will remember $73 million as a significant number in the annals of NFL history. However, the final two numbers told him he was with the right organization. Allen says he probably should have invested that $69 in Bitcoin. Instead, he used it for fuel in his truck. But the sentiment told him everything he needed to know.
“We were laughing about it when that happened,” says Allen. “We put that in there, and stuff like that, so I just think it showed the personality. It showed the connectivity between myself and the team, and that was what I was missing. It wears over time when you realize the business side of it. But for a young player, connectivity is very important.”
That’s what Allen wants to bring to the Vikings as a former player. A sense of connectivity between everyone in the building. He wants the Vikings to remain unique, a place where guys want to play. Fortunately, the new regime has embraced him and other legendary players. O’Connell said it was “special” to be part of the planning for Allen’s Ring of Honor presentation, and he had Allen deliver a message to the team at their US Bank Stadium practice.
“To get to be a part of surprising him and form a relationship with him…he is definitely [A Vikings Legend] with what he was able to do in his six years here,” says O’Connell. “That’s really, really important to me. We’ve talked about getting as many of our Vikings Legends here as much as possible around our team, and that’s something I’m really looking forward to more in the future.”
Allen is still the same guy he was during his time in Minnesota. He still has the mullet and the gravelly voice — still very cowboy. But as a guy who played for a flawed, authoritarian offensive coach in Brad Childress, then an amiable defensive coach in Leslie Frazier, Allen has embraced the new regime. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah isn’t Rick Spielman, who signed him to his mega-deal; O’Connell is a player-friendly former offensive coordinator. However, he’s on board with both of them.
“I got a chance to speak with coach on the phone and then a little bit just now, and I got to speak to Kwesi and all of them at practice,” says Allen.
“When Kwesi first got hired, he did like an alumni call. It just shows that he understands that this is community. There were a lot of organizations that – everybody has their legends community, right? Their alumni community. But it’s rare that [they] really try to create a connectivity of thought and genuinely be interested in what they have to say.”
The common value between Allen, Adofo-Mensah, and O’Connell? Connectivity.
“Obviously, they have their resumés. That’s why they’re here,” says Allen. “I try to pick up on personalities, and I think the personality is going to fit very well around here. It’s not going to be this upper-level, mid-level, lower-level. I think it’s going to be a complete connectivity amongst them and trying to find a way to win.”
O’Connell says he hopes to see Allen in the Hall of Fame in the “not-too-distant” future. It also sounds like he wants to see the ex-Vikings stars in the hallways of their practice facility in Eagan and around US Bank Stadium. He’s a new-era coach, but he knows the influence that a former player can have on his current roster.
“Going back, I can remember when I was little and playing in front of the older guys, freshman football, and the older guys are there,” he says. “Maximize that by about a thousand, and that’s what you get when Jared Allen is watching you practice, or Alan Page, or anybody.
“It’s one of those things that I just think…just knowing the history and the more and more I learn about the history of our organization, from Coach [Bud] Grant and all the great players he coached all the way on through to where I’m standing right now, this organization has had some really great players, great coaches. I just think it would be foolish not to embrace that but also not to try to push for more of that when we can.”
It’s a good sign that there are Vikings Legends who embrace O’Connell, too. He and Adofo-Mensah are doing things differently. They collaborate with their players and use analytics. They aren’t going to run them into the ground or ask that they constantly hit in practice. O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah will do things differently, but the former players should welcome that.
“I think that’s what comes across in the short time I got to spend with some of the coaches is they want to win, and they believe they have the pieces to do it,” said Allen. “They know it’s a process. They know it’s a growing process. But it’s ‘How do we get the best out of each individual player, and how do we motivate that?’ So, again, I got no quarrels, not that it matters if I did.”
O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah will go about things the way they want to. This is their opportunity to run an organization. But they are aligned with Allen on connectivity. Since their introductory press conferences, they’ve talked about collaboration, not just among the front office and the coaching staff but with the players. That’s what Allen is all about. It’s what brought him to Minnesota in the first place.