The free agency wish list for Jared Allen was a relatively simple one; the veteran defensive end wanted to be fairly compensated in his next contract, and he wanted to play for a Super Bowl contender.
No discounts. No finishing up his career for an NFL bottom-dweller.
More than two weeks into free agency, Allen finally found the right combination of money and title opportunity—and it came from an unlikely source.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Allen and the Chicago Bears agreed to a four-year deal worth $32 million, with $15.5 million guaranteed and a voidable fourth year. Essentially, the deal is for three years and $24 million, of which almost two-thirds is fully guaranteed:
Bears gave DE Jared Allen a four-year, $32M deal that voids down to three years of $24M, of which $15.5M is fully guaranteed.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 26, 2014
While Allen didn't get the $10 million per season DeMarcus Ware landed with the Denver Broncos, he did receive a deal from the Bears that presented fair value and was in line with other top pass-rushers.
Lamarr Houston, who signed with the Bears on the first day of free agency, agreed to a five-year deal worth $35 million, with $15 million guaranteed. Julius Peppers inked a three-year, $26 million deal with the Green Bay Packers, but he was only guaranteed $7.5 million, less than half of what Allen landed in Chicago.
Overall, Allen's deal ranks fourth among other deals received by free-agent defensive ends this offseason in terms total money, with only Michael Johnson ($43.75 million), Houston ($35 million) and Arthur Jones ($33 million) signing for more.
Ware's deal in Denver was for three years and $30 million, with $20 million guaranteed.
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But if Allen's only motivation was to chase the cash, he would have landed in Oakland.
According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, the Raiders offered Allen a deal worth $9 million per season. Full contract details, including length and guaranteed money, were not provided. But it can be safely assumed that the cash-loaded Raiders could have matched Chicago's $15.5 million guaranteed and then some.
Money obviously wasn't Allen's only desire. But chasing a Super Bowl on a deal he didn't deem worthy wasn't a very palatable option, either. In fact, Rapoport reported early in free agency that Allen would consider retirement if a fair offer didn't come his way.
Whether those were hollow threats or not, we'll never know. However, Allen's decision not to sign in Seattle speaks for itself.
The Seahawks always seemed like one of the more likely landing spots for Allen, given their affinity for stockpiling pass-rushers and their ability to immediately contend for another Super Bowl title. If Allen truly wanted to get a ring before retiring, the talent-rich Seahawks presented the best opportunity for him to do so.
And Allen did his due diligence, making two separate visits to the Pacific Northwest, per ESPN's Ed Werder, forcing many to speculate that an agreement between the two was in the works. At one point, it looked like a near certainty that the Seahawks would land Allen to help terrorize opposing quarterbacks in 2014.
The deal never happened.
The Seahawks likely had no interest in paying Allen $8 million or more per season. If he was going to play in Seattle, it was going to be a on a team-friendly deal, well below what Allen believed he was worth.
Nothing against Allen, a 10-year veteran with 128.5 career sacks. Just business.
“He’s a prideful man,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said, via Nick Eaton of the Seattle Press-Intelligencer. “He’s accomplished a lot in this league, so anything that we were able to offer was not out of disrespect or anything. It was just trying to fit the pieces together.”
When the Bears jumped into the discussion with $8 million per year and an improving roster, Allen's decision became much easier. The mechanics of the deal happened quickly.
As first reported by national writer Brian McIntyre on Monday, the Bears converted $5 million of Jay Cutler's $22.5 million base salary into a signing bonus, creating the necessary cap room for general manager Phil Emery to acquire Allen. Cutler's contract was crafted to give Emery the ability for just this kind of move.
Less than two days later, Allen was signed, sealed and delivered.
The Bears roster suddenly seems much closer to a Super Bowl than it did when Aaron Rodgers floated a game-winning pass to Randall Cobb to knock Chicago out of the playoffs during the final week of the regular season.
Gone are Peppers, Henry Melton, Josh McCown and Devin Hester, but the Bears have rebuilt the defensive line with Houston, a noted run-stopper capable of playing end and tackle; Willie Young, arguably the biggest steal of free agency; and Allen, a respected veteran with seven straight seasons of double-digit sacks.
If the draft can solve a major issue at safety, while also bringing in another attacking 3-technique and youth at cornerback, the Bears historically poor defense from 2013 will be on the fast track toward improvement next season.
And there's no doubt Allen looked at the Bears offense and saw a unit capable of advancing deep into the postseason.
Was Chicago the best landing spot for Jared Allen?
Cutler returns on a massive deal to lead an offense that averaged 27.8 points per game, the second highest average in the NFL in 2013. He has weapons all around him.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery represent the most physically dominant (and arguably most talented) pair of receivers in the game, Martellus Bennett is a rock at tight end and Matt Forte might be the most productive but under-appreciated running back in the NFL. Throw in an offensive line that took a quantum leap in protecting the quarterback in 2013, and the Bears have all the ingredients necessary to produce another high-scoring offense.
Chicago finished 8-8 last season, including just 2-4 over its final six games. A chance to win the NFC North outright was squandered not once, but twice, as the Philadelphia Eagles ran over the Bears in Week 16 before the Packers stole the division in the dying moments of the season finale.
However, this is a team whose arrow is pointed straight up, especially if Emery can deliver an impact draft class come May. Under Marc Trestman, the Bears should enter next season as a real contender to win the division and make the postseason, where anything can happen once a team punches its ticket to the dance.
For Allen, the situation is an ideal one.
The money is fair, and his new roster is playoff worthy. Playing in the NFC North, a division he's tormented for the last six years, is just an added bonus.
It took him longer than expected, but Allen finally found the right combination of answers in Chicago.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.