A few days before traveling to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine and two weeks out from the start of free agency, Rick Spielman walked into his sit-down with local beat reporters with an offseason plan.
No, the longtime Vikings general manager literally brought a plan.
It was printed in a single-digit font size on white, legal-size card stock with grades for every Vikings player, alongside their ranking of NFL draft prospects and lists of free agents and potential salary cap casualties from other teams. Spielman, wisely, kept that piece of paper at a distance.
“If you can read the names, I’ll back up,” he joked Thursday morning.
Before folding the paper in half and tucking it safely under a notebook, Spielman used that prop to explain that despite all the options available in free agency and the draft, improvement must start from within.
“You can look back at this season and there could be a million different’’ excuses for what happened. ‘‘But we get measured on wins and losses, and we were 8-8 and we have to really look at ourselves,” he said before his cellphone went off, blaring the sound of a Vikings horn.
“To be honest with you,” he said, “I wake up every morning ticked off that we’re 8-8 because I know that is not acceptable by the standards that we place on ourselves. We have to do everything we can heading into this offseason to address the needs and areas we [can improve].”
Since the tumultuous 2016 season ended, the front office and coaching staff have spent the past seven weeks taking a long look at their roster, comparing their players to the ones who are expected to be available starting March 9 in free agency and in April’s NFL draft.
Coach Mike Zimmer has spent more time in offensive meetings, hoping to help coordinator Pat Shurmur resuscitate a lifeless offense.
Spielman himself has been introspective, conducting a study looking into the correlation between when an offensive lineman is drafted and how successful they were at the NFL level. That is noteworthy because in the past 10 drafts the Vikings have selected only two linemen before the fourth round.
Unsurprisingly, Spielman concluded that a “much lower percentage” of the linemen picked after the first three rounds became quality blockers.
“There’s different ways that I had to look back and see, ‘What are we doing right or wrong with this offensive line and how do we get it addressed?’ ” he said. “That was a whole focal point on a lot of the studies and a lot of the analytics that I have been doing since the end of the season.”
So, yes, the Vikings will be looking at linemen in free agency and early in the draft. But as Spielman said, “there are other holes on this roster, too.”
While he noted that “everyone gets riled up” if the Vikings don’t make a splash on the first day of free agency, Spielman does seem open to being active after a disappointing season that saw them go from 5-0 to .500.
“I hate failure with a passion,” he said, still stewing about last season.
The Vikings put a price on every free agent and are leery of committing to long-term contracts that could cost them dearly down the road. But they also have signed nose tackle Linval Joseph, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and guard Alex Boone early in free agency during the past three years.
The scouting staff just stacked their draft board, pending any final tweaks after getting last looks at prospects at the combine and pro days. Spielman seemed most excited about the running back class, which is noteworthy because the Vikings have a decision to make on a certain $18 million man.
Spielman acknowledged that Adrian Peterson has a “significant” salary on the books for 2017, one that the Vikings aren’t expected to pay in full. He said he has yet to discuss that unrealistic contract with Peterson or his agent. That likely will happen next week in Indianapolis at the combine.
Free agency starts right after the scouting combine. That quick turnaround means the Vikings also will be busy in Indianapolis discussing new deals with the agents for their pending free agents, including Munnerlyn, left tackle Matt Kalil and wideout Cordarrelle Patterson.
Then once the money dries up and free agency dies down, the final stages of draft preparation begin. So Spielman and the Vikings have a lot of work left to do in the next couple of months to get the team back on track.
But “at this point we do have a game plan in place,” Spielman said.
And just in case no one believed him, he brought along the proof.