Friday, April 25, 2008
Vikings should be questioned for Allen trade and signing
By Jemele Hill Page 2
Since we're already knee-deep in the annual process of diagnosing the background, behavior and skeletons of future NFL players, how about we turn our attention to a current player whose past deserves a little more scrutiny?
A few days ago, the Minnesota Vikings pulled off a trade that potentially could have the same impact of Randy Moss joining the Patriots.
No, the Vikings won't compete for a perfect season, but by adding Jared Allen, one of the most ferocious defensive ends in the NFL, Minnesota made itself a serious contender to win the NFC.
Allen led the NFL in sacks in '07 and says he's quit drinking, but the Vikings are still taking an enormous risk with $31 million in guaranteed salary.
But before we get too caught up in analyzing whether the Vikings now have the best defensive line in football -- and before Minnesota fans start booking flights to Tampa for the Super Bowl -- there are some things about Allen that need to be addressed.
First, the obvious: How can the Vikings justify inking Allen, who has been arrested multiple times for drunk driving, to a $74 million deal ($31 million guaranteed) when in 2006 they released wide receiver Koren Robinson because of the same problem?
When Minnesota picked up Robinson in 2005, he had a drunk-driving arrest, a four-game suspension and a rehab stint to his credit. Allen has been arrested for drunk driving three times since 2002 and his two DUIs in 2006 resulted in a four-game suspension in 2007 that eventually was reduced to two games.
"It's not consistent," said Minnesota state senator John Marty, an outspoken progressive who vehemently opposes new Vikings and Minnesota Twins stadiums being built with public dollars. "It almost says we care about the behavior, we care about the image and message we send to the community, but if he's a good player it trumps all that. My main hope is always that they've changed. A DUI, it's too deadly of a thing. It's like holding a loaded gun and pointing it at someone. Having one is serious, but when you have multiple ones, it suggests a serious problem."
For the record, Allen and his new team addressed his checkered past head-on at Allen's first news conference as a Viking. But before then, Allen said he'd quit drinking -- although nothing I read about Allen mentioned any professional help in doing so.
The Patriots didn't risk nearly as much on Moss as the Vikings have on Allen. On top of making the 26-year-old Allen the highest-paid defensive player in the league, Minnesota surrendered a first-round pick (No. 17 overall), a pair of third-round selections and agreed to swap sixth-round choices -- which now gives the Chiefs six picks in the first three rounds.
"I had extensive conversations with people that raised Jared, with people that played with Jared and people that coached with Jared," Minnesota coach Brad Childress told reporters this week. "I think he's learned from his mistakes and realizes what it takes to become positive and productive."
Let's hope this is true because it wasn't true with Robinson, whom the Vikings released after another DUI arrest barely a year after signing him.
This isn't to say the Vikings should have kept Robinson. He had his chance, blew it and deserved his outcome. But by signing Allen the Vikings prove a familiar truism in sports: Principles only apply when someone can't produce.
All that matters to the Vikings is that Allen led the NFL with 15½ sacks in 2007 and went to the Pro Bowl. All that matters to Jerry Jones is that Pacman Jones is an electrifying returner and, if paired with Terence Newman, the Cowboys will have two of the best shutdown corners in the league. When Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney recently cut Cedrick Wilson for an alleged domestic violence incident, but not linebacker James Harrison, all that apparently mattered was that Harrison was a Pro Bowler and Wilson was not.
"It's not great PR for the team," Marty said. "People are more forgiving when the athlete is great. If they're a mediocre player and got a bad issue, they use that as an excuse. The better the athlete, some of the public is more forgiving."
Signing Allen doesn't exactly jibe with the new, more responsible environment the Vikings have been trying to create in the wake of the "Love Boat" scandal.
The day after Zygi Wilf purchased the Vikings, he instituted a 77-page code of conduct that went so far as to tell employees that if they stopped smoking, the team would pay half the costs of a hospital-sponsored program to help them quit. At the time, Wilf's brother and team president, Mark, said the policy was the "written expression of the class, dignity and integrity that we strive to maintain in our business dealings, and the class, dignity and integrity we expect from our players, coaches and staff."
And yet here they are signing a player that Kansas City Chiefs head honcho Carl Peterson once described as a "young man at risk."
There is no question Allen's talent commands the money he received. He's a high-energy player with enormous potential, and whatever his mistakes, he certainly deserves the opportunity to make amends. But whether his second (or third) chance should net him more than $70 million is up for debate.
Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.