When the Chicago Bears signed Jared Allen earlier today, on paper the musical chairs of aging pass rushers in the NFC North continued. After Julius Peppers left cold and snowy Chicago for colder and snowier Green Bay, Allen jumped from Minnesota to the Windy City as his replacement.
The process of aging and decaying is happening much quicker with Peppers, as is his right since he’s two years older (Allen is 32, and Peppers is 34). But while Allen certainly has something left and he remains the night vision golf champion, exactly how much that something is leads to shoulder shrugs. Is he really far behind Peppers in his decline?
The answer to that depends on which number you’d like to prioritize in your digit skimming. The most important ones right now have dollar signs in front of them, as they give us a firm free market valuation and form the league’s statement on the worth of a player. When the Bears gave Allen a four-year deal worth $32 million, their money said he’s good enough to be paid $8 million annually. They also insured themselves against an abrupt wall thump with only two years worth of guaranteed money at $15.5 million, which falls well below the $20 million given to DeMarcus Ware.
The contract is fine, or at least suitable and it’s in line with what the current market has dictated for the league’s more elderly defensive ends. But once we remove the dollar signs, the numbers around Allen get, well, concerning.
Firstly, we know what he was, and what he’s done. His current career tally of 128.5 total sacks rank him 12th all-time in league history, and second among all active players. He also has the most sacks since he joined the league in 2004, and his quarterback crumbling pace has been a strong one over his 10 NFL seasons. He’s had four seasons with 14 or more sacks, a single-season high of 22 (2011), and a per season average of 12.9.
That’s the long view, and the entirely of his career, one that includes 11.5 sacks this past season. The short view, however, is less kind.
How often Allen arrived at the quarterback in 2013 was nice and swell, but less so when we look at the amount of time he was on a football field. He recorded 65 total quarterback pressures, but he needed 649 total pass rushing snaps to reach both that number and his sack total. The math there leaves Allen with rather poor efficiency, the sort which gives us a glistening example of why sacks can sometimes skew perception.
As Zach Kruse noted, Allen’s ratio of pressures-to-snaps was well behind the most efficient defensive ends, as Michael Bennett matched his pressure total on only 379 snaps, and Robert Quinn finished with 91 on 477 snaps. His sheer volume of snaps is also less than ideal as we attempt to project the slope of Allen’s decline, one that’s already seen his sack total fall by 10.5 over the past two years. He’s been exposed to far more physical abuse recently than his peers.
Most regular season snaps by D-lineman, last 3 seasons. Jared Allen No. 1 by far: pic.twitter.com/gypYjGB0fd
— Pete Damilatis (@PFF_Pete) March 26, 2014
But if he’s used properly in Chicago, none of this will matter. Not the concerns about repeated physical beatings wearing Allen down over the course of a game or season, and not his effectiveness once said beatings accumulate.
In addition to also signing LaMarr Houston for a formidable tandem off the edge, the Bears brought in Isreal Idonijie and Willie Young. True to his name, Young is fresh and spry at 28 years old, and his presence alone leads to the opportunity for Allen to be used almost purely in pass rushing situations. Last year John Abraham showed what an old fart can do in that role during his 34th year on this earth. On 812 total defensive snaps (Allen had 1,083), Abraham finished with 11.5 sacks.
If he’s used in an Abraham-like fashion to preserve whatever speed and stamina he has left, Allen is capable of producing a fine return on the Bears’ investment. If not, he could be a Julius Peppers replacement who looks a lot like the 2013 version of Julius Peppers.