INDIANAPOLIS – As he stepped up to a podium Wednesday morning, greeted by a throng of reporters itching to learn how he plans to handle perhaps the most intriguing quarterback situation in the league, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman employed a tactic he’s used many times at the NFL scouting combine: talking much while saying little.
“We’ll try to make sure we’re finding the best fit for the Minnesota Vikings, not only on the field from a schematic standpoint, but also with the leadership with Coach [Mike] Zimmer, the culture that has been established in our locker room,” he said. “We will continue to evolve this process.”
However, the Vikings ultimately plan to handle a delicate quarterback situation over the next two weeks — with three former starters set to become free agents and another free agent (Washington’s Kirk Cousins) potentially becoming the Vikings’ next starter — Spielman wasn’t about to tip his hand in Indianapolis.
He parried an NFL Network report that the Vikings have decided not to use their franchise tag on Case Keenum — “There’s been no decisions made, unlike what’s been reported,” he said — and though he said he doesn’t think Teddy Bridgewater’s contract will toll in 2018 after the time Bridgewater spent on the physically-unable-to-perform list, he deferred to the NFL, saying “it’s not been resolved yet, but they will address that.”
League sources told the Star Tribune on Tuesday that the NFL Management Council will not pursue the tolling provision to extend Bridgewater’s contract into 2018. NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy said no decision had been made, and that a resolution would come in the next few weeks.
“Teddy is a great kid, unbelievable representative of our organization,” Spielman said. “Unbelievable work ethic and attitude on how he came back from such a significant injury. As an organization, I just want to put out that we are always going to look out for the best interest of our players and any time that we can do that, we’re going to do that and that comes down from our ownership down through me and Coach Zimmer.”
The Vikings have a fine line to walk at quarterback, only five weeks after they played the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo will accentuate, not overhaul, the West Coast scheme the Vikings used under Pat Shurmur last season, Spielman said, and the GM said the team has had internal discussions about how Keenum would fit with DeFilippo’s offense, a year after throwing for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns.
“I’ll keep those personnel discussions internally, but Case Keenum came in, led our football team, did a phenomenal job,” Spielman said. “He has a knack for making plays. He made a lot of big plays for us because of not only his smarts, his leadership, but his mobility as well.”
Ultimately, the Vikings will have to decide whether they believe Keenum can replicate his impressive 2017 season, or whether Cousins is worth both a heated pursuit and a contract that could make him the NFL’s highest-paid player for the time being.
Spielman said the Vikings have budgeted their salary cap space through 2020, and have a plan for how their quarterback pursuit will dovetail with their intention to keep their homegrown players. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are scheduled to become free agents after next season.
“You have to balance what you do in free agency, you have to balance keeping your core guys,” he said. “There’s a domino effect all the time. You can’t have 53 $10 million players on the roster. That’s not how it works — not doing something so outrageous that costs you and depletes from other areas of your football team.”
The stakes for the Vikings’ quarterback decision are high, as the team brings back what figures to be a well-stocked roster in 2018. Spielman — who famously declared at the 2013 combine that the Vikings had “no intent” to trade Percy Harvin, weeks before the team shipped him to Seattle — did his best to keep a poker face again on Wednesday.
“Right now, [we’re] still in the process of all three quarterbacks,” he said. “[It] gives us an opportunity as an organization to sit down face-to-face with all three quarterbacks’ representatives. I think we’re in a very unique situation because of the in-depth knowledge we have on all three, the practical game knowledge we have because all those guys have played for us. We’re going to continue to be very thorough through this process and, as always, things will evolve here down the road.”