Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has a plan to get younger. It’s a must in today’s NFL, he says. And so the youth movement at Winter Park is about to get underway.
This coming weekend, the Vikings coaching staff and personnel folks will head to Mobile, Ala., for the weeklong Senior Bowl experience. That’s the next big step in preparation for April’s draft. Free agency, meanwhile, will begin on March 13. And through it all, Spielman wants to make it clear that his promotion to the GM’s role comes with one predominant responsibility: to put the Vikings on solid footing for the long haul.
Yes, after a 3-13 season, there is a strong desire to get things turned around as soon as possible. But Spielman knows he must also resist the temptation to chase the quick fix. In addition to upgrading the Vikings’ talent level for 2012, he must have a vision for how the roster will develop in 2013 and 2014 and beyond.
“It’s a thing where you definitely want to put a competitive team out in the field in 2012,” Spielman said. “We certainly understand the urgency of winning next year. But when you make your personnel moves, you’re not just focused on 2012. You can’t be. My focus, if we make a personnel move, is not only how will that affect us in 2012 but I have to look at whether that’s going to have a major impact on us going down the road.”
Last year, the Vikings drafted 10 players. Nine of them made the team and should be a part of the equation in 2012.
This April, the Vikings anticipate having at least 10 more draft picks to play with. With that, Spielman wants to put the roster together in a way that not only enhances the Vikings’ chances of being more competitive than they were this past season but also allows for the team’s younger players to have greater opportunity to develop.
In other words, with the rebuilding curve as steep as it is for the Vikings right now, over-investing in veterans cannot be a top priority, either financially or in how the opportunity to earn playing time presents itself.
“My responsibility is to have not only short-term but long-term vision,” Spielman said. “And again, I understand that I have to understand where the coaches are coming from. Because their job is on the line every year. Regardless of who it is. You can be a Hall of Fame coach. They are focused on one thing – and everybody is. Winning and winning now. And they do everything they possibly can to win. But also when you’re making personnel decisions, you have to make sure you’re looking out for your future as well.”
Two years ago at this time, the Vikings were in the midst of an exhilarating run to the NFC Championship game. Now, they’re coming off a season in which they suffered a franchise-record 13 losses. Asked for his take on what went haywire over the past 24 months, Spielman pointed to a binder, filled with his analysis on the team’s unraveling. First, there were the dynamics that existed during the uncapped year in 2010 that may have altered ever so slightly how the 2010 team was put together. As big as any anything, though, was the Vikings’ temptation to chase a Super Bowl title that season with an “all in” mentality that kept a predominantly veteran roster intact.
“The best way to say it is, some of the things we look back on and we did because of what we call the ‘All in’ theory,” Spielman said. “A lot of times that theory doesn’t usually pan out. And I think we put ourselves into some growing pains by the mentality of, ‘Let’s just focus on 2010 and we’ll worry about it afterwards.’ I think going forward now, going through that type of experience, we’ve seen that you have to be able to look out two, three years down the road. Because you want to have a competitive team down the road every year. … I think the theory or theme or thought process going forward is to make sure, OK, we have a chance to get to where we got to without sacrificing the future for that chance.”
As for the upcoming youth movement at Winter Park?
“That’s what the league is now,” Spielman said. “The biggest thing in this league is bringing in young guys and having a specific plan to develop those young guys so that they’re ready to jump in and step on the field when their number is called. That may be Week 8, maybe Week 1, maybe two years from now. The key is when you do have roster turnover, you’re in a position where you have young and developing guys that you feel very strongly about that can replenish your roster.”