Jared Allen found perfect fit in Bears Prized free agent sought team that could win now but wouldn't try to change his style Defensive end Jared Allen during training camp practice. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune / July 25, 2014) By Dan Wiederer, Tribune reporter 4:15 p.m. CDT, July 26, 2014 BOURBONNAIS — By Jared Allen's estimate, he made 46 calls the night of March 25. Forty-six frantic, excited, gotta-tell-someone calls. All to buddy Jay Glazer. All unanswered. All cocked and loaded with big news. After lingering on the NFL's free-agency dance floor for 15 days, Allen had finally heard the right music. He had finally found a suitable partner, a team he truly believed in. And while he wanted Glazer, a close friend and an NFL insider for Fox Sports, to break the news of his four-year, $32 million deal, he also wanted to share his sincere giddiness. In a surprising twist, he was suddenly a Chicago Bear. Glazer, battling pneumonia, couldn't take Allen's calls. So the news surfaced the next morning via a tweet from the Bears, the organization that fulfilled Allen's checklist of prerequisites. Among other things, the five-time Pro Bowl performer wanted to find a team that could win now, could offer him a leading role on defense and had firepower on offense with a quarterback capable of energizing a locker room and a championship run. Allen wanted to find a communicative coaching staff that he connected with and an opportunity to help lift a team to new heights. "I was revved up," Allen says. "Genuinely excited for how things matched up." The previous two weeks had provided plenty for the 32-year-old defensive end to think about. Allen had flirted with several teams. The Buccaneers were floated early as a possible fit. The Cowboys brought in Allen for a visit. He even made two hot-and-heavy business trips to Seattle, enough to produce an ESPN report asserting that Allen was finalizing a contract with the Seahawks. But Allen sought a perfect fit, not just a good one. He wanted to turn the page from Minnesota but was hesitant to jump on the bandwagon in Seattle. And if he hadn't found enough to energize him for his 11th NFL season, retirement — while never a top choice — was on his radar. "That wasn't an empty threat," Allen says. "It's a weird thing. As much as I love the game and still want to play, football is what I do but not who I am by any means. I love my family. I have other interests. So above all else, I wanted to believe in what I was playing for. "I'm not going to play football if I'm not happy going to work. So for me it was finding a spot where a) I have a chance to win; and b) I believe in everything they're selling." With training camp underway in Bourbonnais, Allen senses the Bears can chase a Super Bowl. Right away. With him as one of the catalysts. He lauds coach Marc Trestman for his genuine leadership, praises defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni for his demanding style and feels confident in a defense with no shortage of proven veteran playmakers. This fresh start, the change of scenery after a long stay in Minnesota? "I feel re-energized," Allen says. "You can get in a place so long to where you find yourself just going through the motions." Moving on Allen's separation from the Vikings after six passion-filled seasons was as amicable as you'll see. He understood even before the 2013 season that it would likely be his last in Minneapolis. General manager Rick Spielman had been forthright with his vision for the future, and with Allen in his early 30s and playing out his contract year with a salary-cap hit north of $17 million, the numbers didn't forecast a reunion. "I'm not dumb," Allen says. Allen had witnessed the financial trap doors that opened beneath other standout Vikings veterans. In early 2012, the team unceremoniously released seven-time Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson to clear cap room. A year later, the Vikings showed three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield the door after a resurgent 2012 season triggered a salary escalator in his contract. And heading into last season, standout defensive tackle Kevin Williams, one of Allen's closest friends throughout his time in Minnesota, agreed to a pay cut. Business is business. Loyalty is a myth in today's NFL. "That's tough for fans to understand," Allen says. "Because there's never a loyalty to players. It's a weird relationship. When you sign with a team, they expect you to be super loyal, but you're there knowing you could be cut at any time. "So for me, I thought it was respectful for the Vikings to actually let me play my contract out. Everything was done with open communication." With both sides seeking a fresh start, Allen left with zero hard feelings but also with an urge to find a defense in which he could maximize his talents. As awful as the Bears defense was in 2013, allowing a franchise-record 6,313 yards, the Vikings were worse, allowing 49 more yards and two more points. Allen was asked to rotate more often than he preferred. He questioned the Vikings' shift from a heavy Cover-2 system to one that mixed in more man coverage and used more Cover-4. A once-vaunted run defense lost its teeth. And the defensive calls seemed to become less aggressive. Under second-year coordinator Alan Williams, the Vikings blew leads in the final minute of five games on the way to a 5-10-1 slide. "You start to question, 'Is this really the right way?' " Allen says. "It's not my job to question that, but it's human nature. "My last few years in Minnesota, there were guys who weren't bought in. There were times when I wasn't bought in. I was telling guys, 'Listen, I'm not 100 percent into this.' And you have to dig deep to convince yourself to get back on board." Back on track Still, down the stretch of last season, during a December surge in which Allen delivered 6 1/2 of his 11 1/2 sacks, he rediscovered an edge. With his sack totals lagging, he self-scouted tape from 2009 and 2010 and saw a player attacking with more purpose. The 2013 version of Allen, he realized, was operating less by feel. He would find himself slow off the ball or pushing too far upfield or frequently stumbling into "certain rushes that weren't really my style" based on what was being called. "So much of it is about rhythm," Allen says. "And going back and looking at it, I just wasn't in sync with how I like to rush." That's why Allen felt intent on chasing comfort and belief as he went through free agency. "I wasn't going to go somewhere and have them try to change me. I'm too old for that," he says. "I can adapt to a system. But I had questions: Am I going to have freedom to play? Or are you going to draw lines on a piece of paper and expect me to follow them every single time?" Bears general manager Phil Emery went through Allen's 2013 performance and felt confident he had plenty of juice left. Emery admired Allen's leverage and ability to balance through contact. He also noticed Allen's "sixth sense" for knowing precisely where the quarterback was. "Some guys can rush the passer but can't finish consistently, relative to their ability to get past the blocker," Emery says. "But he always knows where that quarterback is." The ripple effect Lamarr Houston, also signed to a big free-agent deal in March, should be one of the first to benefit from Allen's presence. With Allen still capable of commanding double teams, or at least frequent chipping from backs and tight ends, Houston figures to have greater openings to strike. "He's one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league," Houston says. "To play opposite of him, that's an honor," Brian Robison, who tallied 25 1/2 sacks the past three seasons as Allen's left-end man in Minnesota, says Allen's influence shows up in other ways too. For starters, Allen's study habits for becoming an elite pass rusher are contagious. "With him, it was always about being a technician of the game," Robison says. "When you watch Jared on tape, his hand technique is as good as you'll find in the game, bar none. So I tried to learn those hand techniques as well as his ability to dissect the opponent. "Jared was always the guy who wanted to know every little tidbit about the guy he's playing against and then have a whole bunch of different moves in mind to set up and use throughout the game." There was a competitive spike to playing with Allen too. "To gather some sacks for yourself, you really had to get after it," Robison says. "With Jared on the other side, he doesn't give you a lot of opportunities to get to the quarterback before he gets there." With everything he knows about Allen's talent and drive, Robison believes his former teammate could be positioned for a huge year. "He's definitely got the opportunity to still be a 15-sack guy," Robison says. Allen charges into this new challenge, convinced he can reach heights he has never before reached — in a city in which he has never won a game. Allen's 0-6 record at Soldier Field will improve soon, and dramatically so, he senses, with all the support around him. A city starving for a Super Bowl has a new standout with similar hunger and a belief that great success is ahead. Allen nods and reads from the book of former Vikings coach Brad Childress. "Brad always used to say, 'You've got to have a chance to have a chance,' " Allen says. "We definitely have that here."