Whether you prefer word-of-mouth testimonials or modern analytics, the evidence is piling up. There is little doubt that Michele Spielman will be a saint. Probably first-ballot.
“She’s got a big heart,” Rick Spielman said.
The Spielmans have adopted six children and own three rescue dogs. Rick, the general manager of the Vikings, works at least 80 hours a week — unless his franchise quarterback gets hurt at the start of a promising season, in which case he might work 110.
Teddy Bridgewater suffered a horrific knee injury while the Vikings were preparing for their season opener, making roster cuts and forming a practice squad. Spielman woke up the next morning at 5 a.m., walked his dogs and formulated a plan to save the season.
“Every morning at 5, whether I want to get up or not, I’m going for a walk,” Spielman said. “If the alarm hasn’t gone off, we’ve got three dogs sitting on top of us.
“It’s the most peaceful time of the day, where you can collect your thoughts. I try to wear the dogs out so they don’t bug my wife all day. And I try to think things through.”
That morning, Spielman didn’t have an epiphany. He doesn’t believe in epiphanies. He believes in process. He had not yet decided to trade two high draft picks for Sam Bradford. He had decided to apply his usual painstaking approach to finding a quarterback worthy of his team.
Spielman and his staff went through every NFL roster, eliminating teams that didn’t have or wouldn’t trade quarterbacks he wanted. He spoke with every team that had a potential fit.
“Then,” he said, “we redrafted.”
The front office held a mock draft of quarterbacks who might be available. That process helped steer a muddled, panic-inducing situation to an obvious solution. “Sam Bradford was the best quarterback out there,” Spielman said.
The staff scoured every available video on Bradford, arriving early in the morning and sometimes not leaving until around midnight. The evaluation of Bradford was bolstered by input from tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, who had worked with Bradford previously with two other teams. Spielman always relies heavily on assistant general manager George Paton, whom he calls “my right-hand man.”
Spielman brought in offensive coaches Norv and Scott Turner, and head coach Mike Zimmer, for more film work. Spielman decided two high draft picks was a reasonable price for a quarterback they rated highly, with a team they believed could win big.
“That’s not mortgaging the future, as everybody says,” Spielman said. “Mortgaging the future, to me, was trading our young star players, and I wasn’t going to do that.”
During the 2016 draft, Spielman traded a third-rounder for a sixth-rounder in 2016 and third- and fourth-round picks in 2017. The fourth-rounder was packaged with the Vikings’ first-round pick next year to get Bradford from the Eagles.
“That made this deal easier,” Spielman said. “We still have eight picks next year. Knowing where we were at, in the third year of our program with Zim, and considering the direction we’re moving in, I felt we had to do something pretty significant because of all the energy that has been put into building this thing. Making this move brought the spirits back up in the building.”
Bradford is completing a career-best 70.4 percent of his passes. He has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I’ve had my hits and misses,” Spielman said. “The one thing that I don’t think I’ll ever do is just stand pat. If something doesn’t work out, I can say we made the wrong decision, but it will never be because we didn’t do the work. It’s never knee-jerk. It’s a long and tedious process, and I’m very fortunate to have George and this scouting staff who put in the work.
“I wish I could say I was going to be right all of the time, but you know you’re going to miss. I’ve told Zim this: ‘I’ll go to the nth degree, every time.’ I owe him that.”