EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings went into the 2013 season with five defensive linemen -- Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Kevin Williams, Everson Griffen and Fred Evans -- in the final years of their contracts. It stood to reason the team would try to lock up a couple of those players before they hit free agency, but it seemed hard to believe all of them would be in a Vikings uniform next season.
On Wednesday, we saw the first steps of the Vikings' plan. And as expected, it began with some of their younger players.
Robison, who turned 30 in April, signed a four-year, $28.3 million contract extension on Wednesday. And 25-year-old defensive end Everson Griffen said the Vikings have offered him a contract extension, but "it wasn't in the ballpark" of what his camp wanted. "We're just working on it right now," he said.
All that leads to an obvious question: What is next for Allen?
Allen said before the season that the Vikings did not ask him to reduce his contract, which carries a cap number of $17.06 million, and Allen is playing out a deal that has not been renegotiated since it started in 2008. That is a rare thing in the NFL these days, but for the Vikings to extract any money from the final year of Allen's deal, they would have had to offer him a contract extension, which Allen said before the season had not happened.
Allen has been one of the league's best defensive ends for most of his career, and has 3 1/2 sacks in four games this year. But he will be 32 before next season, and has expressed his excitement about hitting the open market next spring. When he is still the Vikings' most productive defensive end, and he is this close to free agency, locking Allen up at this point would cost the Vikings plenty. The biggest bill they have coming due in 2014 might be tight end Kyle Rudolph, who will be in the final year of his rookie contract, but even if the Vikings had cap room, it is possible they would not want to have long-term commitments to three defensive ends, especially when two of them are older than 30.
Williams voided the final year of his contract when he renegotiated his deal this spring, and if the six-time Pro Bowler comes back to the Vikings next year, it probably wouldn't be on a large contract, especially with rookie Sharrif Floyd in the fold. The Vikings' moves to lock up -- or at least offer contracts to -- their younger players might be another signal that Allen, too, could be joining Williams on the way out, in what would be a major turnover for one of the league's most successful defensive lines.