Through the first week of NFL free agency, pass-rushers (young and old) inked some very lucrative deals.
DeMarcus Ware signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Denver Broncos, Lamarr Houston signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Chicago Bears and Michael Johnson signed a five-year, $43.75 million deal with Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Based on those figures, it’s safe to say teams aren’t scared to shell out big money for top-tier players who can get after the quarterback. Yet, that doesn’t mean the market has been completely sucked dry. As we head into the second week of free agency, there are still All-Pro pass-rushers available.
The most notable free-agent pass-rusher is 10-year veteran Jared Allen. He made a name for himself by amassing eye-opening numbers on an annual basis. In 157 career games, he has tallied 554 combined tackles, 128.5 quarterback sacks and 29 forced fumbles.
Moreover, he has been selected to the Pro Bowl five different times and won NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
Based on his accolades and the fact that he had an outstanding season in 2013, why haven’t there been more teams interested in his services? Is it his age (32 in April), or is it his asking price?
According to Allen's agent, Ken Harris, via Pro Football Talk, the pass-rusher hasn't seen offers in the $30 million range: "While we feel that a player with his consistent production deserves a fair contract, that offer was not made to him."
To better understand what is holding franchises back, let’s take a look at how much Allen has left to offer.
When one takes the time to dig into Allen’s film from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, it’s evident he isn’t the same player he was in 2011. The big-time sack numbers and the quarterback hurries are still there, yet his ability to effectively stuff the run and play fundamentally sound football aren't at the same level.
According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Allen was the 47th-best run defender at his position in 2012 and the 30th-best run defender at his position in 2013. That’s a far cry from where he finished the 2011 season.
During his 22-sack season, PFF graded him out as the 10th-best 4-3 defensive end against the run. His plus-8.8 grade versus the run was the highest of his career and the fourth highest on the Minnesota Vikings defense.
Schematically, Allen played the same role in 2011. However, his trademark quickness was seemingly gone. In 2012 and 2013, he often looked a step slow and was often pushed out of the frame on run plays.
This was especially clear when he was lined up outside the tackle and the play was coming his way.
As far as Allen’s undisciplined plays goes, he was flagged 12 different times for various penalties in 2012 and 2013. That’s a huge jump from his 2011 season, where he was only flagged three times total. Per NFLPenalties.com, three of his 12 penalties were for being offsides and two were neutral-zone infractions.
At this stage in his career, it’s clear that Allen is looking for an advantage by anticipating the snap count. Even though timing the snap can be an effective way to gain an edge, good pass-rushers can do it without accumulating penalties.
For a case in point, look at players like Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks and Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams. Both players have performed very well by anticipating the snap. In 2013, Bennett and Quinn combined for 27.5 quarterback sacks, 38 quarterback hits and 90 quarterback hurries.
Nevertheless, Allen’s game hasn’t completely gone downhill since he can still rush the passer at an elite level.
Since the beginning of the 2012 season, he has racked up 23.5 quarterback sacks, 37 quarterback hits and 83 quarterback hurries in 1,391 pass-rush snaps. When you break those numbers down and evaluate them on a per-snap basis, it becomes apparent that he is as good as it gets on passing downs.
On a per-snap basis, Allen averages a quarterback pressure once every 9.6 snaps. By no means does this make him an upper-echelon pass-rusher, yet it does mean he could have incredible value as a situational rusher.
Here’s what Ben Stockwell of PFF had to say about Allen prior to the 2013 season:
When you think of Allen you think of a top tier speed rusher but his ability to get pressure inside is the hallmark of a well-rounded pass rusher who knows how to use the threat of his speed rush to open up the inside of an opposing pass protector.
Stockwell is right: Allen’s ability to get pressure inside is the hallmark of a well-rounded pass-rusher.
In recent years, teams like the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots have featured heavy defensive line rotations that use exotic pressure packages. This could ultimately make him a practical fit for any one of the four teams cited above.
Seattle, New York, Dallas and New England all feature four-man defensive lines, which means he could rotate in at right defensive end or right defensive tackle.
Being a versatile rusher has real value in the NFL. Just look at Bennett from Seattle. In 2013, he rushed the passer equally well from the defensive end and defensive tackle positions.
Will Allen play as many snaps as Bennett did at defensive tackle? No, but as Stockwell mentioned, getting inside pressure is promising because it is often more disruptive than pressure off the edge.
When a player collapses the pocket from the inside, it forces the quarterback off his spot and allows defensive ends to close on the signal-caller at a much faster rate.
Despite Allen’s flexibility on the defensive line, teams aren’t going to overpay for his services. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Broncos were interested in signing the fourth-round pick out of Idaho State at the start of free agency, but they balked at his asking price.
Denver was concerned he wanted too much money. It eventually moved on and paid Ware $20 million guaranteed. Still, there are teams interested in Allen if the price is right.
Per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, Allen visited the Seahawks on Sunday and is set to meet with the Cowboys on Tuesday. One has to wonder if Jerry Jones will throw gobs of money at Allen based on the fact the team’s top defensive end right now is six-year veteran Jeremy Mincey.
Yet, paying Allen would seem like an odd move considering the Cowboys just released Ware last week. Nonetheless, it’s possible Jones believes Allen is a better fit for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s defense than Ware was.
Over the course of their careers, Ware has excelled as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, while Allen has thrived as a 4-3 defensive end. So, the lateral move does make sense on the surface. Coaches want players who properly fit their scheme.
Even though he’s a one-trick pony, Allen will go to the organization that pays him the most money. Like cornerback Darrelle Revis, the aging pass-rusher is trying to strike it rich one more time before he hangs up his cleats. You can’t blame him. At the end of the day, the NFL is a business, and he wants to maximize his value.
As good as Allen has been during his career, a particular team could end up having buyer’s remorse when his contract is finalized. Sure, there's gas left in the tank now, but in a year it may be on empty and a team would be stuck with his hefty contract.