MINNEAPOLIS -- Jared Allen is staying put for the rest of the season in Minnesota, which was probably always the most likely destination for the 31-year-old defensive end after Tuesday's trade deadline. As much as the Vikings might have wanted to move Allen and get something for him before he becomes a free agent next March, his large base salary ($14.28 million for this season) and his expiring contract all but guaranteed a team would have had to work out a new deal with Allen before signing off on a trade. Those kinds of moves are particularly tough to pull off during a season, especially when it's so hard to gauge Allen's market right now.
Free agency in recent years hasn't been kind to pass-rushers hitting the open market after age 30; Dwight Freeney got $8.75 million over two years from the San Diego Chargers this past May, and John Abraham had to wait until August for a two-year, $4.6 million deal from the Arizona Cardinals. Both players were older this spring than Allen will be when he hits free agency next year, and Allen has been more productive in his contract year than either player was last season, but pass-rushers have a way of falling off quickly when they get into their 30s. It would have been tough for a team to figure out Allen's price, free up enough cap space to pay him for the rest of this season and give up the second- or third-round draft pick ESPN's Chris Mortensen said the Vikings wanted before Tuesday's deadline, which is a large part of the reason why Allen is still in Minnesota.
Given he will definitely finish the season in Minnesota, the question is: Now what?
Allen has still been the Vikings' most productive defensive lineman -- he leads the team with 4.5 sacks in seven games -- but if he's not going to be back, the Vikings need to figure out if they're going to make Everson Griffen his replacement or keep him in the rotational role he's in now. Griffen isn't the kind of prototypical 4-3 end the Vikings have groomed over the years -- he's just 6-foot-3, and though he's got a quick first step, he's sometimes unable to shed blockers in time to get to the quarterback. He has just one sack this season, after eight last year. Would he be able to hold up on a three-down basis against the run? The Vikings have been using him inside more often lately, so they're getting to see him in running situations, but they don't yet know how he'd look as a 4-3 end on a regular basis.
It's possible the Vikings will have a new coach that could bring in a 3-4 scheme next season, and Griffen's skill set might make him a good outside linebacker in that kind of a defense. The Vikings drop him into coverage on some zone blitzes now, and he had a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown last season. But the current coaching staff sees him as a lineman in a 4-3, and the Vikings will decide whether or not to pay him based on his productivity at that position. Do they need to take a longer look at him at right end and give him a few snaps of Allen's playing time? Allen played a season-low 80.5 percent of the Vikings' defensive snaps on Sunday against the Packers, but Griffen is still moving across the defensive line. Before the season ends, they might need to see if he could be an every-down lineman at one position -- possibly Allen's right end spot.
The Vikings have had very preliminary talks with Griffen's agent about a new contract, and they'll need to see how the rest of his season plays out to make a final decision on him. But they might reach a point where they need to use a few of Allen's snaps to help them finish evaluating Griffen.