Jared Allen is… hilarious. He is. The Vikings defensive end appears at ease in just about any situation, and he makes other feel that. I learned that when he made fun of me from the news conference podium this spring out in Minnesota — before we’d even met.
Don’t let that jovial side fool you. Allen is very serious about football, as his 22 sacks will attest. And he says what he thinks in a very serious manner. So, when we talked before he hit golf balls at the American Heritage Celebrity Golf Tournament this week, we got right down to business.
The subject was rebuilding and insanely young Vikings, a team that has stocked its roster with youth with hopes of everyone growing up together. Yet Allen is 30.
Does he actually know the guys on his team?
“No, honestly,” Allen said. “After mini-camp there was like five or six guys on the team I know. I mean, that are in my age. Some of the young guys… probably a handful of guys that I actually recognize. It’s a different team.”
That’s not necessarily bad. I mean, their record last year was bad, so new faces are good. But the lack of recognizable faces doesn’t mean a ton for this year. Allen has suffered through seasons that went the other way, too.
“I guess the way I try to look at it, I’ve been on teams on paper where we should’ve won the Super Bowl, and it didn’t happen,” Allen continued. “Maybe this year with some youth (it’ll be the other way). Hopefully guys can play right away. I’ve never believe in, ‘They’re young.’ When you get to this level, you’re here for a reason and why wait until your third or fourth year to produce? Hopefully these young guys will step up and play the way they’re supposed to play.”
Last year, Allen isn’t shy to say, was “rough.” Brutal. The team was 3-13, its worst record since 1984. There is some optimism now, as we’ve detailed in this space before.
I asked Allen if he’s convinced the team is heading in the right direction. And his answer was incredibly interesting. Read all the way through, as he remains open-minded, supports the Vikings, and then expresses hope all in the same paragraph. I didn’t take it as him doubting the organization… just not blindly following. It was a weathered response.
“I don’t know anything right now,” Allen said, bluntly. “I guess it’s one of those things… we’re obviously rebuilding. No one wants to say it, but I’ll say it. We’re definitely rebuilding, obviously. I mean, just look what we did. We cut just about everybody old and got everybody young. So, for me, it’s tough. I’ve been in that situation before. But one of the positives, these young guys are working. In mini-camp, guys were flying around, working hard, and that’s important. For me, it’s tough being a veteran and coming from a team… we had such a good team. But unfortunately, guys get old. When I went to Minnesota, I knew we had four-to-five years to be really good. And you know, I trust the Vikings. I trust them. I trust the moves that they make are for the best interests of the whole. They want to win now. I know (owner) Zygi Wilf wants to win now. So for me, that’s exciting. As far as where we’re going to be at, it’s one of those things, there’s no real expectations this year.
“We were 3-13 last year, so you kinda just go out and play and let the cards fall where they fall.“
Allen has two more years left on his contract (earning $11.6 million this year and $14.3 million next year). I wondered if he wants to make sure he sees the Vikings rebuilding process through. Once again, his answer intrigued me. Allen seemed to be feeling his own mortality. You can see in his answer how he wavers one way, then wavers the other way.
“I don’t know how many more years I got left, to be honest,” Allen said. “I got this year next year (on my contract). I’m going to be 30. So, I don’t have five years left… maybe. I don’t know. I got two years left on my contract. As of right now, I want to keep playing. When you get older, it’s something you think about. It’s hard to look at a five-year plan. I want to win now. And so, do I think I got five more years in me? Absolutely. But do I want to be 35 winning a championship? I mean, I’ll take it. But I’d rather win one right now when I’m 30. For me, I just try to take it for what it is. I got this year and next on my contract and then we’ll see what happens. If I end up staying with the Vikings or what happens… So, I just try to take it year-by-year and go out and play as hard as I can. You never know what’s going to happen in this sport. You know what? If this is my last year, I just hope it’s the best it can possibly be.”