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.
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.