After six seasons in Minnesota, Jared Allen is now a member of the Chicago Bears. And if that image does not frost fans in the Twin Cities, then surely they will feel scorn when number 69 is wreaking havoc in the Vikings backfield next season. The Pro Bowl defensive end had received a lot of interest since the start of free agency but chose to wait it out until the right deal presented itself. Now, after signing a 4-year, $32 million contract with the Bears, the five-time All-Pro, Jared Allen gets set for sacks in the Windy City.
When Allen signed with the Vikings back in 2008, he was fresh off his very first Pro Bowl season, and since then has been one of the league’s premier pass rushers. He registered a whopping 22 quarterback sacks in 2011 and his lowest total over the past six seasons was 11, back in the 2010 campaign. Some league critics claim he may have lost a step last season, but if 11.5 sacks is losing a step, the Bears will be more than happy to accept it. The highest sack total from any Bear in 2013 was Julius Peppers’ 7.5, and after that the next highest total was four. Chicago head coach Marc Trestman has made it clear that getting after the opposing quarterback is something he strongly values, and that is exactly what Allen does best.
But the most interesting part of this signing is the fact that Allen remains a part of the great NFC North rivalry between the Bears and Vikings, only now he is playing for the other side. It may be strange for Allen the first time he lines up to go against former teammate and left tackle Matt Kalil in a game situation, rather than a practice. But that has become a common trend in recent NFL seasons as players are often released only to be picked up by division rivals. It used to happen with the New England Patriots and the New York Jets all the time, but the newest example is the constant player swapping between NFC West powerhouses, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. Call it camaraderie or trying to get a leg up, but the difference between winning and losing at the NFL level is so minuscule that teams will try anything to get an advantage. And if the Chicago Bears can get a leg up by adding a premier player to their team while also stealing a pass rusher away from a division rival, then that is exactly what they will do.
However, Allen is not the only defensive player the Bears have added to their squad in the off-season. They have also signed versatile defensive lineman Lamarr Houston from the Oakland Raiders, fresh off his most productive season. The Bears have high hopes that the tandem of Allen and Houston can add some much-needed punch to a defensive line that had some pass rush deficiencies last season. And in a division with big time quarterbacks such as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, they had better bring some pressure. In other words, Allen and Houston had better get set for some sacks in the Windy City.
Whether the Bears will get the returns they are looking for, however, remains to be seen. The defense has lost marquee stars such as Brian Urlacher in recent years, and age may have caught up some of the other heralded names. Linebacker Lance Briggs missed seven games last year due to injury and Cornerback Charles Tillman missed eight. Julius Peppers and Henry Melton are no longer with the team, though Peppers play had dropped off some, and Melton is recovering from a serious injury. Age just may have finally caught up with this long-time vaunted defense, and though Lamarr Houston is just entering his prime, signing Jared Allen does not make them any younger. Perhaps, the organization is merely patching the wounds as they try to find new stars through the draft.
But regardless of the state the defense is in, Allen will give it everything he has. That is just the type of player he is. Relentless and unwavering, and if even a touch of that can spread to the rest of the Bears team then they just might surprise people come September. The cagey veterans in full swing, as Jared Allen joins the Bears to get set for sacks in the Windy City.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky