It’s hard to celebrate when your team has more struggling quarterbacks than victories, but if Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was going to get one chance this season to feel good about himself, it was going to be during his team’s trip this weekend to Seattle.
Not because the Vikings will win. The odds are against that.
Not because he will see Seahawks and former Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Bevell has proved the Vikings should never have let him leave.
No, Spielman can feel good about this trip because, for all of the things that have gone wrong for him, he knows he was right about perhaps the two toughest decisions he had to make.
He was right to trade Percy Harvin, and he was right to cut Antoine Winfield.
Harvin is a great player, but he rebelled against each of his first two NFL coaches, Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier. While Childress isn’t a popular figure in Minnesota, that doesn’t mean a player should be excused from throwing a weight at a head coach. And if you can’t get along with Frazier, you probably belong on a deserted island with no access to the Internet or humanity.
I hated the idea of trading Harvin, but he left the Vikings with no choice, and while he is spectacular he has yet to prove he is vital. Last year, the Vikings won their last four games without him. This year, the Seahawks are 9-1 without him.
Spielman traded him when he had to, received decent value in a league that doesn’t execute many high-profile trades, and then replaced him by trading into the first round of the 2013 draft to take Cordarrelle Patterson, who will replace Harvin whenever the Vikings decide to let him offer more than offensive cameos. And Patterson will emulate Harvin without costing as much or causing as many problems.
This is a general manager’s job: Making unpopular but necessary moves.
The more unpopular move, in this case, was releasing Winfield. While every completed pass by an opponent this season has led to pleas for Spielman to bring Winfield back, old cornerbacks lose value faster than unrefrigerated sushi.
Winfield was a great player, but here are the facts: A smart team signed him, watched him during training camp, then cut him, and nobody else picked him up.
The NFL isn’t always right about young players. It’s usually pretty accurate when it comes to evaluating older players. If Winfield could still play at a high level, he would be playing today.
Spielman is responsible for the quality of the cornerbacks he drafted to replace Winfield. Chris Cook and Josh Robinson have been disappointing, and Xavier Rhodes still looks like a rookie.
That doesn’t mean Spielman was wrong about Winfield.
Spielman has a strong track record as a talent evaluator since he began running the Vikings. He has aced most of his first-round picks. What he and Frazier are discovering this year is that if you can’t pass efficiently or defend the pass, you will look silly no matter what else you do well.
Those angry with Spielman shouldn’t be pointing to Harvin or Winfield. They should be pointing to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
In the NFL, you are your quarterback. Spielman spent a first-round pick on Christian Ponder, then stuck with him. That’s not crazy, to give a first-round quarterback every opportunity to succeed, but it did prove costly.
When searching for a quarterback, the Seahawks were more inspired. They spent a fortune on former Packers backup Matt Flynn to be their starter, but didn’t allow that decision to preclude drafting Wilson in the third round.
When Wilson proved he was ready to run the team during his first training camp, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll gave him the job, despite the financial commitment to Flynn. The reward for that decision has been this: Becoming one of the best teams in football.
Spielman has made a lot of good decisions as the Vikings personnel boss. Until he displays some inspiration while choosing a quarterback, none of those decisions will matter much.