With the NFL scouting combine starting Thursday in Indianapolis, the Vikings are well underway preparing for the 2018 season, starting with free agency beginning March 14 and the draft starting on April 26.
General Manager Rick Spielman explained where the team is at. “We’re halfway through our draft process now, before we go to the combine,” he said. “We’ll continue that process and once we get back with the measurables and psych testing and smart testing — so right now we’re initially stacking our draft board. I think there will be some positions there that we’ll be able to get some good football players in here.”
While the focus right now is on the draft, Spielman said the team is preparing their free-agency game plan before they head to Indianapolis this week.
“After I get out of the draft meetings, we’ll start our unrestricted free agent meetings as we get ready to go to the combine,” Spielman said. “We will compare our guys that are going to be out on the open market compared to guys that are potentially UFAs and also trying to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the draft. Right now, we are right in the meat of everything trying to finalize a game plan.”
Spielman had to be happy about receiving two extra sixth-round picks Friday, compensation for the departures of Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson in free agency last year. That leaves the Vikings with seven picks in this year’s draft, with no pick in the fourth round but three in the sixth.
The Vikings’ biggest question is how they are going to handle their quarterback situation, as they currently have only one on their roster in Kyle Sloter, the 2017 rookie signed away from the Broncos in September.
“We’ll go through our process like we always do every year for every position. We’ll have our Vikings personnel meetings. We kind of wanted to wait until we had the new offensive coordinator in place [John DeFilippo]and now he’ll get an opportunity to evaluate the position,” Spielman said. “We’ll come up with a consensus here as we go through our process.”
Spielman said he is still waiting on word of whether Teddy Bridgewater’s contract will carry over from last season to next season or if he will become an unrestricted free agent, but he is not going to comment on that until the decision is finalized by the NFL and the players association.
While the Vikings staff took some time off after the NFC Championship Game loss to the Eagles, the team knew it had a big void to fill when offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur left to become coach of the Giants. the Vikings hired DeFilippo away from the Super Bowl champion Eagles, then blocked quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski from joining Shurmur. On top of that, the Vikings hired former Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who has a great reputation of working with quarterbacks.
Spielman said the staff is now working together daily. “Normally coach [Mike] Zimmer has them working on personnel and evaluations with the draft and free agency in the afternoons,” Spielman said. “I know in the morning they meet together as a staff, offensive and defensive staff, trying to look and self scout what we did good last year, what we did bad, how we can improve, how we can add some new wrinkles.
“They do a lot of schematic and coaching side in the morning and then work on their personnel evaluations in the afternoon.”
Spielman said the Stefanski situation is a common one in the NFL. The reason the Vikings blocked his move is because the only surefire way for a coach to leave his current position is if he has a head coaching offer.
Spielman believes that by adding DeFilippo and Downing and keeping Stefanski, this will be a dynamic offensive staff. “When we sat there and coach Zim knew what he was looking for as an offensive coordinator, I think the whole process was to try to put the best and the strongest offensive staff that we could together,” he said.
The Vikings have $53 million in cap space for 2018, and that number could get even bigger if Sharrif Floyd’s $6.76 million comes off the books. Spielman said not only will the team look at free agents, but it also will consider extending some current players.
“We probably have a history of revisiting those guys, usually right around training camp,” Spielman said. “Last year we were able to do three extensions with Everson [Griffen], Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes. Try to see where we’re at after free agency and the draft and then identify those young guys. The biggest objective we have is trying to keep this core team together.”
Does he think the big focus of the offseason will again be the offense?
“Our offense took tremendous strides last year. I think on both sides of the ball we have to continue to build the roster to add depth, competition,” he said. “I know we expect that this 2018 draft class should come in here and have an impact, as well. The biggest thing is, you know the things we did well, but you still have to work on the things we need to improve and we’ll continue to look at that.”
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• The Wolves began Saturday with a three-game cushion over the ninth-place Los Angeles Clippers. That cushion is going to be huge with Butler out for the foreseeable future, if the team is to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
• Talking to P.J. Fleck, there certainly is a big difference in the Gophers football squad that will play in 2018 vs. the 2017 squad, because he took over the job on Jan. 6, 2017, and didn’t have a full offseason of recruiting and preparation.
• The Vikings are moving their entire operations from Eden Prairie to Eagan on March 5 and hope to be in complete operation at their new location shortly after that.
• Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported the NFL quarterback market might hinge on the Vikings’ decision of who to sign, because a lot of QBs will want to play with a team that figures to be a Super Bowl contender again. Meanwhile, NFL Network analyst Mike Garafolo said Washington’s Kirk Cousins might sign with the Vikings because of their offensive weapons and the hiring of John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator.
• NFL.com looked back at the 2017 NFL draft and graded each team. They gave the Vikings a B-plus, the highest grade in the NFC North and wrote, “North of New Orleans, few teams capitalized on need with their first two picks better than the Vikings,” taking running back Dalvin Cook in the second round and center Pat Elflein in the third.
• Offensive lineman Josh Andrews, who recently signed with the Vikings, played at Oregon State with Mike Remmers from 2009 to ’11.