Friday, September 30, 2011

Jared Allen's Homunculus and The General Manager's Paradox

**Written by Sebastian Pardo**

His name was CARL PETERSON. You can write that in caps,” said Jared Allen when explaining to 1500ESPN radio why he was traded to the Vikings, who take on his former team the Kansas City Chiefs in this weekend battle of 0-3 teams.

With that statement Allen shakes loose a reminder one of the great paradoxes faced with General Managers in sports.

Allen, an unheralded 4th round draft pick of the Chiefs in 2004, out of obscure Div 1-AA Idaho State, proved to be a revelatory pick. Quickly demonstrating his fierce motor, determination and physicality that would become a trademark of one of the most productive defensive ends in football since.

However, Allen also showed a propensity for immature frat boy behavior. Upon joining the Chiefs he, oh so cleverly, chose the number 69, in part so he could get away with the phrase “Wine’Em, Dine’Em 69’Em” being the official tag line of his short-lived Kansas City restaurant. More worrisome even, was Allen’s two DUI’s, the first in May 2006, and the second in September of the same year, bringing his lifetime total to 3 (For which he would receive a 4 game suspension to start the 2007 season). Coupled with Allen’s Ted Nudgent like bow hunting adventures, along with his brash, head strong, sound-bite-friendly braggadocio lead many to worry in Kansas City’s upper management.

So when Carl Peterson, who Allen says lied to him about a new contract, shipped him to Minnesota after the 2007, a season in which he was an All Pro (remember despite missing 4 games while serving his suspension.) Allen was incensed. Despite a career year, and being a player entering his prime, he was told he wouldn’t be needed in Kansas City anymore.

Upon arriving in Minnesota he was rewarded with the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history, and unlike the previous season where he was playing with the carrot dangling of a rich new contract, he had his contract. But he also had something new, something he wouldn’t have had should he have stayed in Kansas City. He had the pain of rejection, the pain of being sent packing.

Since the trade Jared Allen has had continued success, reaching double digit sacks in each of the last 4 seasons, making another All-Pro Team in 2009, and a Pro Bowl in 2010. Further more, by all accounts Allen, while still the paragon of manly manliness, has a newfound maturity, and an altruistic side.

Since the trade Allen has become an advocate for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, raising funds through his “Sack Diabetes” program. In 2009, he was one of 4 players who went overseas in the NFL-USO program, and upon his return founded his own charity: Jared Allen’s Homes 4 Wounded Warriors.

There seems to be a shift in Allen the person, and unlike many NFL players who change teams in search of big money, he’s figured out a way of reaching continued success on the field.

And this raises a paradox.

If Carl Peterson commits to Jared Allen and makes him the highest paid defensive player in NFL history, there is an excellent chance that he never gets the player, and subsequently the person that Allen has become. Instead it’s entirely possible that the large payday serves as a kind of reward for Allen’s reckless behavior, both crippling any potential growth from him as a person, and likely watching as it erodes his ability on the field.

For Allen, the rejection by the Chiefs, seemingly caused him to evaluate his life, and re-prioritize. Maybe as a Chief he never goes on the USO tour, where he says “It has been one of the best experiences of my life - something I’ll never forget.” And he is never forced to put into perspective the service, and real sacrifice his Grandfather and younger brother who both served in the Marine Corp. gave for something higher than Wining, Dining and 69ing.

And for General Manager Carl Peterson, he is faced with a loose-loose scenario, whereby he can no longer have the player that Allen will become, but yet will be tormented by the success Allen will go on to have. To the home crowd Allen is evidence of Peterson’s incompetence, weather it’s letting a good player get away, or overpaying for a troubled player who is a bust.

However the paradox really only exists for General Managers, the torment of that executive decision relies entirely on a judgement call about the deep primordial homunculus living inside the spirit of the player. Does this player have the grit, to turn himself around or do we risk letting the player learn somewhere else, if at all. For a GM, that decision is difficult, and can change sport history. However, one can see why it seems safer to err on the side of letting someone else take the risk.

The paradox is hardly a paradox for the player, rather it is the same fundamental proposition we all face on a daily basis. One that is often, and easily put into the phrase: “life is 10% what happens, and 90% how you respond.”

Don’t expect any “Thank Yous” from Allen, to be headed toward Carl Peterson. By the tone and tenor of his interview with 1500ESPN, Allen certainly doesn’t seem ready to point the finger at himself. But perhaps that’s due to Peterson’s lack of faith in Allen’s ability to turn it around off the field, and maintain a high level of performance on it. And to be fair Allen’s transformation is not all that surprising, and perhaps is a testament to his natural maturation into adulthood, more than a major reformation. But then again, Jared Allen does still wear number 69.

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