Vikings general manager Rick Spielman spoke with reporters for more than a half-hour this afternoon at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, first meeting with writers from the Twin Cities, then later taking the podium at Lucas Oil Stadium for a brief press conference. Among the more noteworthy things we learned …
1) The color of money for the Vikings as they head toward free agency is blue. And purple. And red.
If you’re into technical football speak, then you’ll want to listen closely in the coming weeks as Spielman uses a color-coded system to label Vikings players and those the team may court through free agency.
It goes like this:
- Blue players are top-of-the-line difference makers, Pro Bowl-caliber standouts – guys like Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson.
- Red players are legitimate starters, guys who can be relied on to contribute significantly for 16 games.
- And purple players are lower-tier guys, role players and special teams contributors.
The Vikings’ quest going forward is developing a plan that synchronizes the front office’s personnel strategy with the specific needs the coaching staff expresses to make the offensive and defensive systems work. Say, for example, the Vikings determine they ideally want to operate with four blue players, five reds and two purples on their defense, next come the valuable discussions to determine what positions the blue players are most needed and which positions can get by with purple starters hidden.
At that point, it’s up to Spielman to alter his free agency and draft wish lists in accordance with the coaches’ wishes.
The big questions are being asked.
Said Spielman: “Where do you want to allocate your money on the blue positions on offense and defense? … I sat down with all the coaches and with Leslie [Frazier] and said, ‘Tell me where you want our blue money to be.’”
2) The Vikings have yet to cross any players off their draft board due to character concerns.
Spielman said it’s too early for that, too much research left to be done on guys with “issues.” Plus there are still 63 days left before the first round of the draft.
So for now, the Vikings have identified guys whose character needs to be investigated further and, in Spielman’s words, “put them in a box.”
“We know where some of the skeletons lie in the closet,” Spielman said. “And we just have to dig into that closet to see if those bones are worth having on the roster or not.”
By the time the draft rolls around, Spielman is certain there will be at least a few players with first-round talent that get the dreaded red dot next to their name, players “we just want absolutely nothing to do with, I don’t care how talented they are.”
But making that determination too early isn’t wise.
Spielman rewinds to 2009 when there were character questions about Percy Harvin as the draft neared. Some critics expressed sincere concerns as to whether Harvin could keep his ego and temper in check. Even more troubling, Harvin failed a drug test at the ’09 combine. But in the end, the Vikings liked Harvin enough to pounce when he dropped down the draft board to No. 22.
“We felt comfortable with him after we did all the due diligence that he’s going to be a good player,” Spielman said. “We felt comfortable with his character.”
3) Spielman is hiding his cards well in regards to what his plans may be with the potential restructuring of several veterans’ contracts.
Guard Steve Hutchinson is the most likely candidate to have his contract restructured. Hutchinson, 34 years old and with 11 NFL seasons on his odometer, is due to make close to $7 million in 2012. Which, for a team that is in full-fledge rebuilding mode, is an exorbitant price tag that will weigh the Vikings down as they build for the future.
So now it’s up to Spielman to get up with Hutchinson and his agent to discuss the options. Bringing Hutchinson back at a deep discount may be possible. Then again, Spielman’s long-term vision may lead him to simply thank Hutchinson for his time and effort before a friendly pat on the back sends the veteran offensive lineman on his way.
Said Spielman: “[With some guys] we might not be interested in restructuring. We may just be ready to move on”
Spielman said he hopes to have concrete plans for every player on the Vikings’ roster by the end of next week. But formal moves will likely not be made until right before free agency opens on March 13.