R ick Spielman officially became the Vikings general manager on Jan. 3, 2012. While Spielman was previously the VP of player personnel and had input on shaping the roster, the move gave a clear signal as to who is in charge. Here is how Spielman has handled five tough decisions since then:
• 2012 draft: Spielman stole picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds to move one spot down and select Matt Kalil, whom the Vikings would have taken anyway, then used that depth to move back into the first round and take Harrison Smith. Both were part of an impressive rookie class that also included kicker Blair Walsh.
• Kicking conundrum: Speaking of Walsh, a sixth-round pick, it was assumed by many that he would merely compete with incumbent veteran Ryan Longwell. That assumption changed a couple weeks after the draft when the Vikings cut Longwell. Skepticism over that move washed away quickly when Walsh boomed kickoffs into the end zone, set a record for most 50-plus-yard field goals in a season and calmly kicked the game-winner (twice) against the Packers to launch Minnesota into the playoffs.
• QB situation: For better or worse, Spielman made it clear with his moves that Christian Ponder was the Vikings’ starting QB in 2012. The faith was rewarded when Ponder, after a rough middle stretch, rebounded to win his final four starts of the regular season.
• What to do with Percy Harvin: Spielman publicly said the Vikings weren’t trying to trade the talented but troubled WR. Privately, he worked out a trade that even most Harvin lovers admit is at least fair: a first- and seventh-round pick in this year’s draft and a third-rounder next year.
• Antoine Winfield: With the veteran CB set to count $7.25 million against the cap, the Vikings cut him Tuesday. Spielman said he could come back at the right price, which might seem cold. But it’s the type of move a consistent winner has to make to stay ahead in the NFL.
Translation: These were all tough moves/decisions that required a vision for the future and a singular focus. Not that anyone was questioning the decision to increase Spielman’s role 14 months ago, but the move keeps looking smarter every day.