Rick Spielman is entering his fifth season as Vikings general manager and was the team’s vice president of player personnel since May 2006, and in his time the team has made 11 first-round picks. All 11 players started their rookie season, seven were named to all-rookie teams, four made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and two of those picks, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, were named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
So with Spielman getting prepared for another draft — the Vikings currently are set to pick 23rd in the first round — he was asked how he has had such sustained success in selecting young players.
“I give a lot of credit, most of the credit, to our scouts and our coaches and everybody being on the same page and everybody understanding what type of traits we’re looking for and what kind of players fit into the system,” he said. “When you can get that communication and open lines going on a daily basis, and everybody working as one, I think that’s why we’ve had some success with some of these players.”
The Vikings scouting department and coaching staff will be spending a lot of time preparing for NFL free agency and the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Feb. 23 in Indianapolis.
Spielman said that when it comes to determining what players to go after, the team weighs a lot of criteria.
“I think you know we’ve always looked everywhere and we’re not going to always take the best player,” he said about the draft. “It’s too early in the process right now to even start guessing who is going to be there or who we’re going to take. A lot of it will depend on what happens with our roster, guys that are coming back, guys that we’re able to bring back that are unrestricted free agents, potential guys that we may bring in in the UFA [unrestricted free agent] market.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces, and we usually have all of that solidified by the time we get back from the combine. But right now one position can look very strong as of today, but I know we may have two or three UFAs at that position leaving our club or we may cut that guy, and then it all of a sudden becomes a position we need to address. Those are things we need to address the next couple of weeks.”
When it comes to next season, Spielman believes the team will have some continuity, but fans should be prepared to see a different squad.
“Our football team will look different than it did this year, every year it’s going to look different,” he said. “The objective is to keep our core guys, the guys we want to build this franchise around. We have a lot of young guys that are coming up that are going to have to look at and pay some money to, extend their contracts. Then as much as you want to keep everybody you’re not going to be able to keep everybody, and what is the game plan on replacing those guys?
“So there will be a lot of new faces either coming in as free agents or coming in as draft picks. We’ll continue to evolve, and I know the coaching staff we have with Coach Zimmer will continue to evolve and even continue to move forward like we did from the first to second year.”
Zimmer the key
Perhaps the greatest move of Spielman’s career was bringing in Mike Zimmer to be the coach. Spielman talked about his experience through two seasons working with him.
“I think he is as sincere and straightforward of a person as I have been around,” Spielman said of Zimmer. “I think the players respect that, and I know the players really believe in him. When they go out there every Sunday they truly feel they have been prepared during the week to give them the best chance to win the game. And when players believe that much in the coach, I think that’s why you see us having the success we’re having.”
When Spielman was asked who surprised him the most on the team, he said that it was actually probably the work that the coaching staff has done with rookies.
“I think you know, I won’t call it a surprise, but just knowing this coaching staff and how the rookies over the last couple of years have impacted us winning and losing ballgames,” he said. “It’s all the credit to the coaching staff and those guys being able to take these guys that come in as rookies and train them and develop them and have them play in a system and be productive in a system. Those are the exciting things to see.
“The last two draft classes under Zim and what he and his coaching staff were able to do with them, and I think you know we keep layering on and continue to layer on like we have. We look forward to having another good draft this year, and hopefully those guys will come in and continue to have the same type of success as some of our other draft picks have had. That helps continue to build and move forward from where we’re at now.”