Jeff Allen sat at his locker, dressing silently and solemnly.
This was Jan. 16, the date of the Chiefs’ 27-20 divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots, and Allen was allowing the disappointment to settle in when a realization hit the offensive lineman: It had been a long time since he’d been forced to deal with a defeat, at least as a starter.
Once the Chiefs finally inserted him into the starting lineup in mid-October following a training camp knee injury, they ran off a streak of 11 straight wins until their playoff loss to the Patriots, not that Allen knew exactly what the number was.
“Something like that,” Allen said. “I didn’t keep count. (I just know) that’s the first time I lost.”
So Allen, 26, just sat there, dealing with the fact that the season was over, and maybe, just maybe, his tenure with the Chiefs was, too.
Allen, the Chiefs’ second-round pick in 2012, is set to become a free agent March 9, and even back in January, he knew there were several facts to factor into his situation. First off, he figured he’d played well enough in 2015 — and had enough experience over the first four years of his career — to earn a nice contract somewhere.
And secondly, and perhaps most importantly, he’s watched several Chiefs offensive linemen who, like himself, played well be allowed to walk via free agency by the current regime over the past few years, including Branden Albert, Rodney Hudson, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah.
To that end, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said he likes what the 6-foot-4, 306-pound Allen — who was a part of an offensive line group that showed much more nastiness this year, as a whole — brought to the team.
“I don’t think it’s fair to single out one individual (for that attitude), but I think it’s collectively, it’s the actual group itself,” Dorsey said. “It’s (coaches) Andy Heck and it’s Eugene Chung that helped foster the unity of this group.
“I thought Jeff, when he was asked to step in, he stepped in and did very nicely.”
Other teams will likely notice that, too. In a league where offensive line play has been largely uneven in recent years, an experienced player like Allen — a former top-50 draft-pick who has started 36 career games, has playoff experience and is just entering his prime — should have no shortage of suitors next week.
Allen, who missed practically all of 2014 with a biceps injury but played hurt on at least one occasion this year, has his fair share of fans around the league.
“Offensive guard is not a position a lot of people spend a lot of time talking about, but you need guards, and you need good guards,” said senior NFL Films producer Greg Cosell. “I think he’s a quality guard. If you sign him, you can run a multiple run game and you’d be set for the length of his contract. He’d be a solid guard for you.”
Cosell said Allen — who could be spotted standing up for his teammates on multiple occasions this year — is scheme versatile, too.
“He’s kind of a bad-bodied guy who moves better than his body would suggest,” Cosell said. “I think because of that, he could fit in a zone scheme, I think he could fit in a gap scheme … I think he can do both and I think he’s effective at both.”
Former NFL star LeCharles Bentley, a two-time Pro Bowler center who now runs a popular training center for offensive lineman, agreed.
“Secondly, as a player I feel that whomever gets Jeff Allen is probably going to end up with one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the National Football League,” Bentley said. “As a player, he’s everything that you want. There’s nothing that he can’t do.
“That being said, he may not aesthetically be what you’re looking for, but when you start talking about performance, there aren’t many players at guard in the league that can do the things that he can do consistently.”
Specifically, Bentley was impressed by Allen’s improved physicality and technique in 2015.
“Anybody can go out and be big and strong for a couple plays, but to be able to do it back-to-back-to-back, that’s when you know you’ve got something pretty unique, and that’s what allows Jeff to be, in my opinion, one of the better guards in the NFL at this point in time,” Bentley said. “I know people may not see him as that, but I will challenge anyone to find me 10 guards better than him.”
What’s more, Bentley — who trained Allen prior to the 2014 season but no longer does so — knows exactly what kind of person he is, too.
“I think the biggest thing with Jeff is he’s a tremendous person — I think that needs to be acknowledged,” Bentley said. “I just don’t believe that at this point in the league anymore, guys can be dirtbags and end up being highly successful people and players.
“When you pay him, be it a lot or be it a little, he’s not shutting it down. Jeff is a guy who is always going to be a consummate pro, he’s going to be incrementally looking to get better. And I think, at this point in time, with where offensive line play is in the league, to have a guy like that, what more could you ask for?”
That’s what the Chiefs — who have no shortage of young offensive linemen on the roster — will have to ask themselves.
And while Allen said he would like to return to Kansas City way back in January, even then he admitted he wasn’t sure if it would come to pass.
“You’ve just got to see what happens,” Allen said at his locker. “But obviously it takes two sides, so that’s not up to me, completely.”