The Vikings were preparing for the 2009 draft when Rick Spielman revealed an interesting tidbit during a media session.
Spielman had not yet been promoted to general manager, still carrying the title of vice president of player personnel. But he oversaw draft preparations, and in doing so Spielman noted the organization had assigned “red dots” to 78 prospects, thus eliminating them from consideration.
Players received red dots primarily based on character or injury concerns. The Vikings wouldn’t touch them.
“Can’t take the dot off,” Spielman said at the time. “It’s a big scarlet tag, and you can’t take it off.”
That story came to mind with reports that a Vikings contingent that included Spielman spent time evaluating running back Joe Mixon at Oklahoma’s Pro Day this past week.
Does Mixon get flagged as a character risk after being suspended from football for one season for punching a woman in the face at a restaurant? The Vikings should apply a red dot in this case because any potential that Mixon might find trouble again is not worth the risk.
Drafting Mixon would fly in the face of Zygi and Mark Wilf’s declaration that player conduct is a top priority.
Fundamentally, I believe in second chances and a person’s ability to atone for past mistakes. But I also believe that public perception and risk of future problems are powerful factors that professional teams must weigh in personnel decisions.
Mixon punched a student in 2014, leaving her with fractured bones in her face. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops suspended Mixon for one season but allowed him to stay with the program.
When video of the incident was released this season, Stoops admitted that he would have kicked Mixon off the team had it happened now, citing more awareness for domestic violence.
The video was disturbing and should scare the bejesus out of any team that is considering Mixon.
Mixon was barred by the NFL from attending the scouting combine because of his history. Some teams complained about that decision, but attending the combine is a privilege, not an entitlement.
Mixon participated in Oklahoma’s Pro Day, which always attracts a large audience of coaches and scouts because it is a premier college program.
The Vikings contingent included Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu. They undoubtedly were there to see other prospects as well, but a photo of Zimmer leaving the workout alongside Mixon set off internet sirens. No one outside Winter Park knows for sure their true interest level.
Mixon serves as a textbook case of a moral tug-of-war NFL teams sometimes face. He is a definite first-round talent who will make any offense instantly better.
NFL executives and coaches are charged with winning. They work in a ruthlessly competitive business, so therein lies the dilemma. Would you draft Mixon? If so, how high?
Let’s examine that question from a Vikings perspective. Packers free agent Eddie Lacy reportedly will visit Winter Park this weekend, another sign the Vikings are ready to move on from Adrian Peterson.
Even if Lacy signs, that wouldn’t preclude the Vikings from drafting a running back. Draft experts call this running back class unusually deep.
If the Vikings have interest in Mixon, the concern is more about risk than trepidation over public perception. The Vikings felt fan wrath in 2014 after a disastrous news conference in which they reinstated Peterson as he faced child-abuse charges. The blowback from fans and sponsors was so intense that the team reversed course on punishment and apologized for making a mistake.
Mixon will spark outrage wherever he lands. The guess here is that some fans will care, some won’t care at all, some will accept it reluctantly.
The fear with Mixon is not that he doesn’t feel remorse or accountable for his actions. The concern is that any future issues involving him would create a major problem for the organization.
The sincere hope is that Mixon has a productive career, on and off the field. But if I’m the Vikings, I would continue to address offensive line and then choose a different running back from a deep pool.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org