The NFL offseason kicked into high gear this week when the franchise-tag period began on Monday. Teams have until March 3 to use their tags before other teams can begin negotiating with free agents on March 8.
For the Minnesota Vikings, the franchise-tag period usually comes and goes with nothing more than a few whispers and rumors that never amount to anything.
Minnesota has used its franchise tag just once since 2008, designating Chad Greenway in 2011, before signing him to a five-year deal worth more than $40 million.
The Vikings hit the 2014 offseason with 17 unrestricted free agents, but once again the possibility of using their franchise tag on one of them is slim to none.
If a team designates a player with the franchise tag, it is agreeing to pay the player at least the average salary of the top five paid players in the league at that position.
The only free agent the Vikings have who could even be considered for a franchise tag would be Jared Allen, but the tag amount for defensive ends for 2014 is $12.5 million, and it's highly doubtful Minnesota wants to pay Allen that much.
Here are three of the Vikings better free agents and what the franchise tag would cost them to use on each player.
|Franchise Tag Cost for Vikings' Top Free Agents|
|Age||2013 Cap Hit||2014 Tag Salary|
|Jared Allen||31||$17.1 million||$12.5 million|
|Charlie Johnson||29||$5.0 million||$11.1 million|
|Toby Gerhart||26||$1.0 million||$9.1 million|
As you can see, other than Allen, the Vikings don't really have a free agent who would even be considered for the franchise tag.
And no, we don't think Charlie Johnson is one of the Vikings' top three free agents, but he's a long-time starter in the NFL, and people who can say that tend to get paid.
While the Vikings have plenty of free agents who could find themselves starting for Minnesota or somebody else in 2014, none of them can command anything close to what a franchise tag would cost the Vikings.
So, the only question for Minnesota becomes this: Is Jared Allen worth $12.5 million for the 2014 season?
The simple answer for the Vikings is no. While Allen might be worth that much for a few teams around the league, Minnesota isn't one of them.
While new coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive guru who loves pass-rushers, the simple truth is that for the good of both the Vikings and Allen himself, the team should let him enter into the free-agent market.
Here's a look at Allen's production over the last three seasons:
|Jared Allen's Last Three Seasons|
|Tackles||Sacks||Forced Fumbles||Passes Defended|
Allen turns 32 years old in April and while it would surprise no one if he had a few more monster seasons in him, the Vikings can't roll the dice on him, especially when that roll of the dice would cost them so much money.
Do the Vikings make themselves a better football team by letting Allen walk? No. The guess here is that they try to sign Everson Griffen for substantially less money and see what he's capable of once given a starting role.
Everything being equal, there is probably little chance that Griffen has a better year than Allen next year. The problem, of course, is that everything isn't equal. Allen's play lagged in 2013 and if he returned to Minnesota in 2014 it might recede even further.
A new team would probably re-energize Allen, who is likely looking to sign one more pretty big contract before calling it a career. Give Allen a new role on a contending team next season and another 12-or-more-sack season wouldn't surprise anyone.
For the Vikings, however, the cost of doing business dictates that they sign the 26-year-old Griffen to a one- or two-year "prove it" contract and say goodbye to one of the best pass-rushers they've ever had.
Keep in mind that the Vikings just signed Brian Robison to a four-year extension last fall that will pay him just more than $28 million. It seems quite unlikely that they would drop another large dollar amount to keep Allen when they have so many other holes to fill on the roster.
It certainly seems counterintuitive to let one of your best players leave via free agency, but it's really the Vikings' only play. The odds of Allen agreeing to a one- or two-year deal for a lot less money are probably slim to none, and if Allen was still on the roster, they'd never find out what they might have in Griffen.
You hate to say goodbye to a guy like Allen. He's a model citizen who plays the game with boisterous attitude that makes it more fun for everyone involved.
But it's time for the Vikings to turn the page. The Jared Allen era is over.