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Rick Spielman, the Vikings’ vice president of player personnel, prepared to address the media Tuesday at Winter Park.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

VIKINGS INSIDER judd zulgad

NFL teams flying without a net

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD
  • Star Tribune
  • April 28, 2011 - 12:41 AM

The NFL lockout started on March 11 and since then there has been no roster movement. No free agency, no trades or even talks of contract extensions.

All of this means that the Vikings have been unable to do anything to improve a roster that needs plenty of work. They will get at least a brief reprieve over the next three days as the NFL conducts its draft.

Depending on what happens in court, the labor disruption could either end in short order or extend well into the summer. All Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and new coach Leslie Frazier can do is focus on what they can control.

Right now, that means making the best decisions possible with their nine draft picks. Considering how disappointing last season was for the Vikings, especially coming off a run to the NFC title game in 2009, it can be debated whether they are simply retooling or are in a true rebuilding mode.

Did the window on this franchise close last season as 41-year-old quarterback Brett Favre and several other veterans failed to repeat the success of a year earlier? "I think it's just retooling what we've talked about," Spielman said, not surprisingly choosing the optimistic angle.

But Spielman knows that with no idea when player movement will be back to normal and with many needs, this draft has a very different feel. NFL executives will try to convince you that the labor issues will not affect their selections, but it's hard to believe them. Ordinarily, they would have free agency or trades to fill holes as well.

The Vikings, for instance, can't simply draft for the future because they have enough needs that some of their higher picks likely will need to play a significant role whenever football resumes. And there is no guarantee how many holes the Vikings will be able to fill through other means of player acquisition.

"We're going to have to have some young guys step up [where] we knew last year we had pretty much the same roster and the rookies that we brought in were probably going to play more of a role type than become an actual starter," Spielman said. "Some of them ended up being starters, and some of them ended up contributing. But I think this year the guys that we pick are guys that we plan on hopefully coming in and making a contribution either as a starter or for sure a role-type player."

What's interesting is how much time the Vikings have had to focus on the draft. Some members of the organization, such as Spielman and director of college scouting Scott Studwell, always make this a year-round priority. However, this spring there has been an inordinate amount of time for Frazier, his coaching staff and other members of the front office to involve themselves. This could be good, but it also could lead the Vikings, and many other teams, to overanalyze things.

This also will mark the first time that Spielman and Frazier have worked this closely in the draft room. Owner Zygi Wilf has made it clear that he expects them to be able to play nice and come to a consensus on decisions about picks and the roster.

Spielman said the collaboration process with Frazier has been "outstanding" before joking that as the focus turned toward defense that some of those players seemed to be rising up the draft board.

Asked about his role in the draft room, Frazier said: "Mine is more of, 'Let's talk about this.' It's not like I'm trying to dictate or say it's my way or the highway. I've got a lot of good people around me that I trust, and the fact that we can communicate, we'll resolve whatever differences of opinions we might have because we are working toward the same common goal and that's what's best for the Vikings."

Added Spielman: "[Frazier] has a great understanding and a great picture on where we're at as a football team and where we can fill needs."

Thursday, the two simply will be happy that for the first time this offseason they will have a chance to begin addressing some of those needs.

Judd Zulgad • jzulgad@startribune.com

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