As Jared Allen tests free agency, what are the chances he returns?
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During his final season under contract with the Minnesota Vikings, Jared Allen said he'd rather retire than become a rotational player.
As Allen, who turns 32 in April, tests free agency for the first time in his career, he's set to face a stark reality that the NFL isn't monetarily kind to defensive ends over the age of 30 -- at least not the type of kindness he received without restructure in Minnesota.
So what's the chance he finds a happy middle ground to stay?
The Vikings have a spotty history in paying out to keep their own players in house.
A 28-year-old Chad Greenway received a five-year, $41 million ($20 million guaranteed) deal in 2011; defensive tackle Letroy Guion got a three-year, $9 million extension at the age of 24. But when it comes to players older than 30 - the Vikings are less generous, which is a reality of the NFL.
A 32-year-old Kevin Williams restructured his deal before last season, in which he took a $2.5 million pay cut and is now a pending free agent after the team also voided his 2014 option. At the age of 35 last offseason, Antoine Winfield was a cap casualty and cut outright, without a whiff of renegotiating.
When the Vikings release tight end John Carlson, they will hold more than $35 million in cap space after the ceiling was raised to around $133 million by the NFL this offseason. But with major holes to fill at quarterback and along the defensive line, where Fred Evans and Everson Griffen are also free agents, the Vikings may not be willing to offer Allen as much as one of their 31 shopping competitors.
His play in 2013 should be enough to convince another team to spring for the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher more than the Vikings - who have plenty of defensive ends to pursue in free agency. But as CBSSports' Jason La Canfora reported from the NFL Scouting Combine, the Vikings should at least get a shot to match any deal Allen receives.
Allen avoided renegotiating his deal before last season (at a team-high $17 million cap) and finished with his seventh consecutive season of 10 or more sacks. After two offseason surgeries, including one to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, Allen bounced back and played nearly 91 percent of the snaps (per ProFootballFocus.com) and finished with 6.5 sacks in the Vikings' final five games.
However, falling off the performance cliff doesn't always prelude the financial drop off for defensive ends. NFL contracts are paid on what you're expected to do, not for what you've already done.
A 33-year-old Dwight Freeney signed a two-year, roughly $9 million deal with the San Diego Chargers before last season. Freeney appeared in four games before he suffered a torn quadriceps muscle and underwent season-ending surgery. Freeney's deal included $4.5 million in incentives, per ESPN.com, and Allen could likely expect a similar, if not more bloated, structure for his next deal.
Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has restructured his six-year, around $90 million deal twice since landing with the Bears at the age of 30 in 2010. Now that the 34-year-old's cap number for 2014 rests around $14 million, the Chicago Tribune reports he's likely to be cut.
Jason Taylor's final double-digit sack season came when he was 33 years old. Michael Strahan topped that and reached 11.5 sacks for the last time at the age of 34. A 35-year-old John Abraham tallied 11.5 sacks with the Arizona Cardinals last season -- after signing a two-year, $4.6 million deal.
It's a fact of age. Allen will have to embrace a different role, both on the field and in his next contract, whether that's in the form of less guaranteed money, more tied into incentives and/or simply less money than he's probably expecting for a team that doesn't need, or want, him to play 90 percent of the snaps.
After collecting nearly $75 million from the Vikings since being traded to Minnesota in 2008, place your bet that another team will be more generous with one of the all-time leading sack masters.