Rick Spielman did it again.
When the rest of the NFL was packing up their things at Radio City Music Hall with the Seahawks on the clock for the final pick of the first round, the Vikings general manager continued his now-annual tradition of trading back into the first round for another top prospect.
After drafting UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr with the ninth overall pick Thursday night, the Vikings acquired the 32nd overall pick and used it to select Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the one-time top-three projection who had a Rodgersian fall in the first round.
The selection of Bridgewater reportedly came after a failed attempt to trade up for Texas A&M dual-threat quarterback Johnny Manziel, the object of affection for many Minnesota fans. Spielman acknowledged he tried to trade up earlier in the night but declined to say which quarterback he coveted.
Regardless, his adrenaline still was pumping when he met with reporters after another wild first night of the draft.
“This is what this day is,” Spielman said with a grin. “This is what the draft is all about.”
With the first pick of the Mike Zimmer era, Spielman selected Barr, a four-star fullback at UCLA turned All-Pac 12 pass rusher. The Vikings had long coveted Barr, who was one of the select prospects to be invited to the team’s “Top-30” event last month.
During his two seasons as an outside linebacker at UCLA, Barr made 149 tackles, forced nine fumbles and racked up 23.5 sacks. He had 40.5 tackles for a loss, more than South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who were top-five selections Thursday night.
“After Clowney, we felt he had the most potential to be the next-best edge pass rusher in the draft,” Spielman said.
Barr was sick of losing and tired of not touching the football when he approached UCLA’s new coach about the position change that would change the trajectory of his football career. Disappointed, he told coach Jim Mora Jr. that he was ready to try barging into the backfield as an outside linebacker instead of lining up there before the snap.
“He agreed with the decision, and I kind of ran with it,” Barr said Thursday night. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
As confident as he is, Barr never thought that this would be a possibility.
As for the possibility that Spielman would jump back into the first round, nobody should have been surprised by his bold move. Spielman has done it in three consecutive drafts.
When the Vikings first were on the clock at No. 8, they quickly traded back a spot and gained a fifth-round pick, No. 145 overall, from the Browns. Spielman said the Vikings got offers to drop down even further, but he heard rumblings that other teams were interested in Barr and feared he might lose him.
Two hours later, Spielman tried to acquire the No. 22 pick from the Eagles to select a quarterback, but the Eagles chose the Browns’ offer and Manziel was headed to Cleveland.
The Vikings later traded their second-round pick and their fourth-rounder to the Seahawks for the right to select Bridgewater, whom the team worked out privately in Florida after he struggled at Louisville’s pro day. During that workout, offensive coordinator Norv Turner coached the 21-year-old hard, and his performance reinforced what the Vikings saw on tape.
Spielman watched Bridgewater, who threw for 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions as a junior, three times during his college career, including a game in 2012 when he led Louisville to a win over Rutgers despite playing with a fractured left wrist and a banged-up ankle.
“You know the thing I like the most about him? He wins,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings said that they won’t rush Bridgewater onto the field, but Spielman can’t wait to see his two first-rounders in action. But to him, nothing beats the excitement of the draft.
“This is the chance to put the final pieces together on making significant moves to improve your ballclub,” Spielman said. “I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be able to be a part of this draft and to do things we’ve been able to do the last couple of years.”