Before Allen, Vikings struggled with the rush

Jared Allen brought a new element of pressuring the passer that the Vikings hadn't seen in some time. He is a free agent, but before he is completely dismissed, a review of the Vikings' struggles before Allen is in order.

Much of the early draft buzz surrounding the Vikings has centered on quarterbacks – whether any of the Big Three (Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles) will be available if the Vikings stay at No. 8 and whether the team would be high enough on Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr to take a chance on him above where most scouts have him ranked?

While that is the primary topic of the draft buzz, free agency is a different story. The Vikings had a checkered history in attempting to draft defensive ends over the years prior to the blockbuster trade that brought them Jared Allen in 2008. In his six seasons with the Vikings, Allen never had less than 11 sacks in any season. He had 85.5 sacks in that span, an average of more than 14 sacks a season.

What makes that number so significant is what the Vikings had prior to Allen's arrival. In 2007, the Vikings' sack leaders tied with five (Ray Edwards, Ben Leber and Kenechi Udeze). In 2006, Darrion Scott led the team with just 5.5 sacks. Lance Johnstone (7.5) was the only Viking with more than four sacks in 2005. It was something that had become a systemic problem and the team couldn't find success in filling that role.

It wasn't due to a lack of trying on the Vikings part, but the players they selected at defensive end were more trivia answers than solutions to a problem. The list included Dimitrius Underwood (1st round, 1999), Michael Boireau (2nd round, 2000), Udeze (1st round, 2004), Scott (3rd round, 2004) and Erasmus James (1st round, 2005). The only sustained success in terms of producing sacks during that period came from Johnstone, who was signed as a free agent.

As things currently stand, the only pass-rushing defensive end in the Vikings 4-3 scheme that would appear worthy of selection with the No. 8 pick in May's draft is South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney – and it appears almost impossible that he will fall to No. 8. Clowney could end up being the first overall selection in the draft and, if he's still on the board at pick No. 4 or 5, there would be a lot of teams willing to give a king's ransom to move up into one of those spots to grab him.

Just as Adrian Peterson has changed the way Vikings fans view the running back position, Allen helped redefine the modern era of NFL pass rushers. It would appear as though he won't be coming back and that void will be extremely difficult to fill. Brian Robison is the only line starter from 2013 that appears to be a lock to be a starter in 2014 and he has thrived playing on the left side of the Vikings defensive line. If the Vikings are going to fill the void of having an elite pass rusher at the right end spot, it's going to take free agency to fill that need, not the draft.

In a perfect world, the additional money that keeps coming in for the setting of the 2014 salary cap would allow the Vikings and Allen to reach an agreement that brings him back and allows him to finish his Hall of Fame career with the Vikings. But, the M.O. of the Vikings with Rick Spielman calling the shots has been to invest in players under the age of 30, not over.

It would appear the Allen Era is over in Minnesota. The bigger issue is whether the Vikings can find a way to replace him. They tried for years before he arrived to get that job done and failed. They can't afford to wait three or four years again to have a dominant pass rusher. Allen came with a hefty price tag and earned every dollar he made. Those are big shoes to fill and the next guy will have a difficult time getting that job done.

THURSDAY NOTES

  • CORRECTION: In a recent VU story concerning the potential for the Vikings to tap the knowledge of new head coach Mike Zimmer where it concerns his former Cincinnati Bengals players, as part of the background for the story, VU checked out the feelings of the local Bengals analysts in Cincinnati on which free agents they felt were in the must-sign category. In one such analysis, it was mentioned that defensive back Chris Crocker might be re-signed, but not until after the first four games. I interpreted that to mean Crocker was facing a league suspension. That was 100 percent wrong. Instead, it was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that Crocker was re-signed by the Bengals after Week 3 of the 2012 season and Week 4 of the 2013 season. We apologize to Crocker if he was portrayed in a negative light over the story.

  • Former NFL running back and college football TV analyst Craig James filed a discrimination complaint against FOX Sports after being taken off the air after one week as a college football commentator for FOX Sports Southwest. James, who was running for the U.S. Senate in 2012, made his beliefs on homosexuality clear on the campaign trail. James said his opposition to same-sex marriage was based on his religious beliefs. In his complaint, James and his representatives claimed that there was a workplace bigotry against people of faith. FOX Sports countered that James was a polarizing figure as the reason for him being removed from his position as a college analyst.

  • CBS Sports reported Wednesday evening that D'Qwell Jackson, the veteran linebacker released by the Cleveland Browns Wednesday morning, already had been contacted by seven teams. The Browns released Jackson because he was due a $4.1 million roster bonus in March. Almost immediately after his release, the Vikings were mentioned as a team that might be interested in Jackson given their need for a veteran middle linebacker, but it is unclear whether Minnesota is one of the teams that has expressed an interest. Because he was released, Jackson can negotiate and sign with any team he chooses prior to the official start of free agency on March 11.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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