What: The Vikings’ draft “war room” is the coaches’ meeting room on the second floor of the team headquarters at Winter Park.
The leader: General Manager Rick Spielman. He has orchestrated every draft since 2007 and has had final say since 2012.
Who’s in the room? About 20 people. The head coach and offensive and defensive coordinators are in there full-time. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is brought in periodically. Also present are owners Mark and Zygi Wilf, Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski, Assistant General Manager George Paton, Director of College Scouting Scott Studwell, seven college scouts, two pro scouts, two team doctors and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman.
Working the phones: Paton and Brzezinski drum up trade options by persistently calling other teams to gauge interest throughout the draft. When trades are made, Brzezinski phones the league with the Vikings’ side of the confirmation.
Did you know? Since Spielman took over, the Vikings never have picked a player that they didn’t reach on the phone immediately before they submitted their pick to New York. When the Vikings know the pick, one of the pro scouts in the room calls the player’s cellphone. “I just want to make sure they’re there, they’re alive, they’re not arrested, they haven’t lost any limbs,” Spielman said. As for whether being unable to reach a player would be a deal breaker, Spielman laughs. “If Adrian [Peterson] hadn’t picked up, that would have been a tough one to pass on,” he said.
Keeping an open line: Once the draft begins, the Vikings have a land line phone open to New York. It stays open for every minute of every pick in the entire draft. There are two team representatives in New York. Last year, Director of Pro Scouting Ryan Monnens and pro scout Scott Kuhn were in New York and were the ones who turned in the player card to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
What do the big bosses do? Everything that’s done in the draft room unfolds with owners Zygi and Mark Wilf holding front-row seats. “They’re very competitive people, but they understand the process and they trust us to do the best job we can do,” Spielman said. “They ask a lot of questions. But they’re very, very supportive. I have a meeting with them the day before to just kind of talk about different scenarios. They kind of sit and enjoy the process.”
The mood of the room: In Hollywood, “Draft Day” is quite the show. The salary cap person is Jennifer Garner, who kicks off draft day by telling the general manager, Kevin Costner, that she’s pregnant with his child. “I assure you that will not happen here,” Spielman joked. In Hollywood, the general manager first notices a basic flaw (a fear of being sacked) in the draft’s hotshot quarterback AFTER he trades three first-round picks to move up to No. 1 overall to take the hotshot quarterback. And the only reason the GM has to look for the flaw is a tip — “watch the tape” — at the end of a phone call from a linebacker who sacked the hotshot quarterback and wants the GM to draft him instead. In the real world, teams like the Vikings spend nine months researching every player. It takes 10 long days of organization-wide meetings to stack the entire draft board using a numbering system that ranks each player to the thousandths of a percentage point.
All work, no play: “Yeah, it’s a little different [than the movie],” Paton said. “It’s actually very quiet. You’d be surprised. There’s not much talking. We’re on the phone, obviously, but you don’t hear much else. We’ve already had the meetings. We’ve already had all the discussions we could possibly have. Very rarely is a voice raised. Draft day is the easy part.” Said Spielman: “People don’t realize how much is happening at the same time. But as long as in that room everybody knows and understands what their roles and responsibilities are, then it’s organized. All I have to do is say this, this and this, and everybody knows exactly what to do.”