What if NFL executives behaved like NFL wide receivers?
What if, after an NFL general manager’s hotly-debated decision turned out better than an Apple stock option in 1979, he felt emboldened to execute a touchdown dance? Maybe rub his rear end against a goalpost, ala Randy Moss? Maybe reprise the Ickey Shuffle?
If so, a certain Viking employee should be dancing the Ricky Shuffle.
He won’t, of course, either physically or metaphorically. To imagine Rick Spielman dancing is to imagine Bill Gates rapping.
Spielman doesn’t exult. He just makes sensible and often prescient decisions.
This winter, the guy who drafted Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, John Sullivan, Kyle Rudolph, Blair Walsh, Sidney Rice, Harrison Smith and Matt Kalil faced two choices certain to offend a portion of his locker room and a portion of his fan base.
Spielman had to decide whether to keep Antoine Winfield and Percy Harvin, two of the best players in the NFL over the past five years.
Winfield is a tremendous professional. Harvin is wildly unprofessional. Winfield is a technician. Harvin is an irrepressible talent. They shared these characteristics: They were spectacular, if undersized, players, they would be difficult to replace, and keeping them would be as risky as ditching them.
Winfield has done everything within his power to extend his remarkable career, but he’s a 36-year-old cornerback. Harvin lashed out against Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier, who might be the nicest coach in NFL history.
Spielman had to decide: Keep them because of their talent, or pressure yourself to replace them?
Spielman cut them loose.
Winfield was cut to free up salary space during free agency. Spielman wanted Winfield back only if he was willing to take a bargain contract. Winfield, a prideful man, signed with the Seahawks. Reports out of Seattle suggest he’ll either be a role player or may have trouble making the team. In other words, Spielman made the right decision.
He traded Harvin to the Seahawks for three draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2013. At the time of the deal, the Seahawks believed they had stolen a great player, and a more than a few Vikings, including Peterson, agreed.
Neither the Vikings nor the Seahawks could have known that Harvin would wind up missing most of the 2013 season because of a hip injury, but Spielman must have felt confident that something would happen to Harvin, whether it be continued migraines and attitude problems or an injury that seems inevitable for a player who plays so violently with such a small frame.
Whatever would happen to Winfield and Harvin with their new team, Spielman was obliged to replace what they used to provide for his team.
He used the Vikings’ first pick in the 2013 draft on the proverbial best player available, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who has impressed during training camp.
He used the 25th pick, acquired in the Harvin deal, to take the best cornerback available. Xavier Rhodes should be in the starting lineup by Opening Day.
He dealt his way back into the first round to take the most talented receiver available, Cordarrelle Patterson, with the 29th pick. Patterson’s size and explosive talent could allow him to replace Harvin’s presence as a kick returner and catch-and-run receiver.
I was one of the many who questioned Spielman’s willingness to part ways with Winfield and Harvin. I loved to watch both of them play. I wondered whether Spielman was damaging his team’s chances of winning in 2013, even if he was making sound long-term decisions for his organization.
Patriots boss Bill Belichick is famous for excising players before they reach the end of the line, following the philosophy that it is better to ditch a player too early than too late.
Spielman took that approach with Winfield and Harvin. And he has put together a far better roster than Belichick, whose coaching genius and quarterback obscure his team’s many flaws.
Spielman made the right decisions for the right reasons. While the future may indeed be unknowable, he’s pretty good at making educated guesses.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. firstname.lastname@example.org