Souhan: Spielman comes out swinging as general manager

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 27, 2012 - 3:39 PM

Minnesota hasn't been home to many general managers who could be called "slick," unless you were using the word in a way that might start a fight.

There was Trader Jack McCloskey, who spent so much time in Hawaii during his Timberwolves employment that his nickname changed to Trade Winds. Remarkable Mike Lynn loved to blow smoke in its literal and virtual forms, but the Herschel Walker trade ended his hopes of becoming a legendary wheeler-dealer.

Doug Risebrough lovingly spoke of his job as a "manager," then managed to ruin the Wild franchise. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan became an executive of the year but did so by discovering prospects, not playing poker with peers.

Running Minnesota franchises today are the still-unproven Chuck Fletcher, the rested Ryan, the alternately verbose and invisible David Kahn, and Rick Spielman. Thursday night, in his first Vikings draft in which he possessed full power, Slick Rick proved he knows how to play the game. Somewhere, Lynn was squinting enviously and unleashing a plume of toxins.

Spielman owned the third pick in the draft. Smart money had him taking USC left tackle Matt Kalil in December, and in January, and in February, and in March, and yet on the evening of April 26, Spielman's efforts to construct a Lynn-like smoke screen paid off.

He knew he was going to take Kalil. Had probably known for months. But his media jujitsu, his willingness to pretend that he had interest in Morris Claiborne or Justin Blackmon, fooled enough high-profile media members and opposing NFL executives that on Thursday night the Cleveland Browns felt compelled to move up one slot in the first round.

The Browns wanted Trent Richardson and knew the Vikings wouldn't take a running back. But they didn't know what team might trade for the third pick and steal Richardson, or how far Spielman was willing to trade down, so the Browns were willing to give up a few of their stockpiled picks.

Spielman picked up three extra choices in that deal, then traded his second- and fourth-round picks for the 29th selection in the draft, where he chose Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith.

Spielman started with the third pick in the draft. He wound up with the fourth pick, with which he selected the best offensive lineman available, and the 29th pick, with which he selected perhaps the second-best safety in the draft. In a few hours, he added two starters and fixed two Pat Williams-sized problems.

"That trade with Cleveland kind of set the tone of the draft," Spielman said.

A while after the trade, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier stood on the podium in the Winter Park fieldhouse and admitted of Spielman, "He's a little bit giddy."

Spielman was right not to move out of the top five slots in the draft. While the Vikings have many needs, they should be mindful of the philosophy of the great Jacques Lemaire: "Solve one problem, and two disappear."

Kalil should give them a Pro Bowl left tackle for a decade. His arrival will improve the left tackle position, allow Charles Johnson to slide over and improve the left guard position, and better protect Christian Ponder's blind side.

Ponder and Johnson should improve because of Kalil's arrival, and a strong left side should mean that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave can provide more help to the right side of the line.

If Smith plays to the Vikings' expectations, he'll be the versatile, play-making safety they haven't had since Darren Sharper came over from Green Bay in 2005, and their best young safety since ... Robert Griffith?

"This is a very exciting night," Spielman said.

We're still getting to know Spielman. He received criticism for his work in Miami, where he was pressured to try to win immediately. He worked as a personnel expert in the Vikings' amorphous front office before becoming general manager in January.

Thursday, Spielman made two trades, took two first-rounders and looked, yes, almost giddy in his new role. "I was like, 'Wow,'" Frazier said.

When the smoke cleared, Spielman had put in a good day's work.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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