John Sullivan agrees to 5-year, $25 million extension with Vikings
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John Sullivan won't be testing the free agent market this offseason.
An NFL source said on Saturday the Minnesota Vikings' starting center has agreed to a five-year, $25 million contract extension that includes $10 million in guarantees.
"It's very humbling," Sullivan said by phone on Saturday afternoon, shortly after the deal was finalized.
"It means a lot that they've put faith in me as a player and that I've been able to go out there and prove to them that I can get the job done at a critical position like center. ... I'm incredibly motivated to just do everything I can to live up to this contract and help us win as many games as possible."
Sullivan, a sixth-round pick by the Vikings in 2008 out of Notre Dame, was in the final season of his rookie deal that included a $96,200 bonus.
The 26-year-old has been one of the few bright spots in a 2-11 season filled with disappointments, rebounding from a rough 2010 to become the most reliable member of the Vikings' offensive line.
Asked about his future on Thursday in the locker room, Sullivan said: "I'm just focused right now on what we're doing as a team and going out there this weekend and trying to beat the Saints (on Sunday). All that stuff will take of itself. The best thing I can do from both perspectives is just go out there and play as well as possible trying to help us win."
However, NFL sources indicated the Vikings and Sullivan already had opened talks that were aimed at keeping him in Minnesota.
Sullivan's extension isn't on par with the monster deals signed in recent years by fellow centers Jason Brown (five years, $37.5 million, $20 million guaranteed with St. Louis is 2009), Nick Mangold (seven years, $55 million, $22.5 million guaranteed with the Jets in 2010) and Ryan Kalil (six years, $49 million, $28 million guaranteed with Carolina in August). But it's good money nonetheless for a seemingly ascending player who is playing his best football.
"I think we came to an agreement that was fair for both sides," Sullivan said on Saturday. "Mainly, I left that up to my agent really. They play a vital role, allowing you to as a player focus on what's important, and that's just going out there and playing each and every week. That's ultimately how you get your best deal and it's just the right way to do things."
Since Zygi Wilf bought the team in 2005, the Vikings have been aggressive in trying to sign pending free agents that they value before they hit the market. Long snapper Cullen Loeffler was signed to a three-year extension in early October.
The Vikings, of course, made two significant moves just before the regular season.
Linebacker Chad Greenway signed a five-year, $41 million deal that included $20 million in guarantees. A few days later, running back Adrian Peterson agreed to a $100 million, seven-year contract that included $36 million in guaranteed money.
Sullivan's signing at this point is a wise move for the Vikings because the team had around $4 million in available 2011 salary-cap space that they had until Dec. 31 to use. The Vikings also made an offer to safety Husain Abdullah earlier in the season, but those talks were put on hold after he went on injured reserve because of a concussion.
Sullivan replaced Matt Birk as the Vikings starting center in 2009 as the team made a run to the NFC title game. But last year was a personal nightmare for Sullivan.
His father died in June after having a heart attack. Then, three weeks before the season began, Sullivan had an appendectomy that the Vikings tried to keep quiet. During the season, he tore both his calves but still ended up starting 14 games.
"When you have torn calves, it's very hard to play with any balance or power," Sullivan said. "I was dealing with that last year. The appendectomy right before the season didn't help. Obviously, the personal issues were a factor as well. But being healthy number one, and playing for Jeff (Davidson, the Vikings' new offensive line coach) is just an absolute pleasure."
Sullivan remained in Minnesota during the lockout and spent time working out with a trainer he hired. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 301 pounds by the Vikings, Sullivan said he is 10 to 15 pounds heavier than he was a year ago.
That, combined with his health and improved strength, has helped him hold up much better against larger nose tackles than he did in the past. The Web site ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape of every NFL game, has Sullivan ranked No. 2 overall this season among centers.
"It's hard to fight off those well over 300-plus pounders when you have injuries in both legs," Sullivan said. "You don't even have a leg to stand on. They're tough when you're fully healthy. They're basically impossible to block when you're not. Obviously, being healthy has helped.
"But I am stronger. It's just another year to become physically more mature. I hit a point this offseason where the lifts started getting easier, and I really think that was kind of getting your man strength, I guess."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier credits Sullivan with bouncing back from a tough and inconsistent season.
"(He's) really become a leader in a lot of ways at the center position for our offensive line," Frazier said last week. "It's just a testament to him. The fact that he put that behind and focused on 2011. He has overcome a lot of things to have a very, very good season for us.
"It kind of gets lost in the way our season has gone, but a lot of why we have moved the football on offense is because of his direction. Especially when you have a young quarterback (Christian Ponder) playing for you and prior to that a new quarterback (Donovan McNabb) who had never been in the system. So his grasp of this new system, along with his composure, has really helped us to do some positive things at times on offense."
As far as his working relationship with Ponder, Sullivan has been impressed with the rookie.
"He's a young guy, but he's incredibly smart," Sullivan said. "He cares, he wants to win. He puts the work in off the field as well as on the field. I have a lot of respect for him. He's' a natural leader, takes control of the huddle. He's everything you're looking for, total package, so with some more experience he's only going to get better and better."
Sullivan's signing cuts the list of potential free agents for the Vikings by one.
The other unsigned players are backups and role players, including quarterback Sage Rosenfels, linebackers Xavier Adibi and Kenny Onatolu, receiver Devin Aromashodu, halfback Lorenzo Booker, offensive lineman Patrick Brown, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive tackles Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, safeties Tyrell Johnson and Jarrad Page, long snapper Matt Katula and cornerback Benny Sapp.