Rick Spielman is entering his sixth season as Vikings general manager. While he knows the offseason routine, he also knows this is a very important season for a Vikings team that will play host to the Super Bowl. On top of the general pressure of another NFL offseason and trying to improve a team that went a disappointing 8-8 in 2016 is the fact that the Vikings have 14 free agents, and a lot of tough decisions to make.
“We started our process last week, met with all the coaches and the scouts,” Spielman said. “We kind of went through our personnel, where we’re at, we identified our needs, and we’ll start over the next month here putting together our game plan on where we can attack to fill those needs, whether it be free agency or we have to wait through until the draft. There are going to be some things that can happen.”
NFL free agency begins March 9, and the Vikings have to make decisions on players such as Matt Asiata, Audie Cole, Rhett Ellison, Matt Kalil, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman and Cordarrelle Patterson.
“The most important process is to be honest with yourself on where your roster is and be honest on the type of personnel,” Spielman said. “Then once you identify those needs, and we do it where the coaches are involved, the scouts are involved, and then I’ll sit with Coach [Mike] Zimmer, [Executive Vice President] Rob Brzezinski, [assistant GM] George Paton, and we’ll finalize our game plan and get ready to improve the roster.”
Even that lineup is in flux, as reports Friday had Paton as the favorite to become San Francisco 49ers GM.
Draft depth key
One big question for the Vikings is how they will handle the draft, since they dealt their first-round pick to the Eagles for quarterback Sam Bradford. Spielman said his goal is the same as ever, to try to select a large draft class.
“We have eight draft picks going into this draft, my goal was to have 10 or more by the time we get out of this draft,” he said. “I do think we have to replenish our roster with some youth. Last year we signed a lot of our players back, a lot of free agents back on the roster, and this year I know we’re going to have to get some of the younger players going. This new class coming in, from a draft standpoint, will be a part of it as well.”
And when it comes to the 2017 draft, Spielman sees some positions of strength. He described where the team is at in the process of evaluating players.
“We had our first meeting in December, and then our scouts will be coming in in a couple weeks and head down to the Senior Bowl,” he said. “I saw most of those kids that are going to be in the Senior Bowl, but I think offensively the two strongest positions — and I don’t know all the juniors that are coming out or who’s staying or going and that won’t be decided for a couple weeks — but it looks like an extremely strong running back class. I think the tight end class is going to be extremely strong.
“I think the other positions will fill in, but you don’t get a true sense of that until the juniors are all coming out.”
Uncertainty for stars
Then there’s the big question on two of the key pieces of the Vikings offense in Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater. Spielman talked about each player’s unique circumstances.
“I think Adrian will always defy the odds,” Spielman said. “He got hurt this year, but I still think he has a lot of football left in him. Those will be some of the tough decisions we have to make, and what you do is when you go through this process you’re trying to weigh in where are you going to put your resources and financially where are you going to spend your money.
“We have a lot of young guys coming up this year. I think Xavier Rhodes is an extremely talented young player that we’re going to have to be mentally prepared to address his contract. Those decisions will be made once we get through the free agency and draft meetings. But I think Adrian Peterson has football left in him.”
And how does the GM feel about the odds of Bridgewater coming back from a very difficult left knee injury?
“Teddy is working extremely hard in rehab,” Spielman said. “It’s still way too early in the process to know where he’s going to be or if he’s going to be ready for training camp or not be ready for training camp. We’re going to have to go through the process, and it’s an unknown at this point.
“I know Teddy is an incredible kid, and he’s working as hard as he can and probably doing as much as he can to try and get himself ready. But it is a very significant injury. It’s not just an ACL tear or a meniscus tear, it’s a very significant knee injury. It’s an unknown. One of the reasons I know when we made the Bradford trade was knowing that Bradford was also under contract for next year, as well. We’ll have to see where Teddy is. I know we’re excited about where Sam is, and we’ll just play it as it goes along.”
Yes, a lot of people questioned the Bradford trade because the Vikings missed the playoffs, but there’s no question that if Bridgewater can’t go next season it will be a great benefit to still have Bradford on the roster.
And while they might not have a first-round pick, Vikings fans should feel confident that Spielman can continue to find late-round value and make some great selections.
• The Vikings need a draft like 2015 instead of 2016 if they’re going to add to their depth in 2017. In 2015 they selected Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, T.J. Clemmings and Stefon Diggs, who were all key contributors this season. Meanwhile, last year’s rookie class failed to make an impact. First-round pick Laquon Treadwell had one catch all season, second-round pick Mackensie Alexander made five tackles and fourth-rounder Willie Beavers didn’t initially make the team. The Vikings also got a little bit out of later-round picks Kentrell Brothers, David Morgan, Stephen Weatherly and Jayron Kearse, the seventh-rounder who was the only rookie to play all 16 games, including one start at safety.
• Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said that while the team’s success this year will be important for luring free agents, the bigger issue will be signing young stars such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. “There’s two parts of that. No. 1, we have some players that are going to be big-name players, so when you look at your payroll and stuff like that you have to consider that,” said Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. “I mean you want to keep your money for your own star players, too. But in answer to your question, I think it will be helpful that if we play well in the second half that there are players with experience who will see them coming here and playing with this team may get us over the hump. Everyone’s goal is to get deep into the playoffs.”
• The Gophers’ Vinni Lettieri was named the Big Ten’s second star for his play last weekend against Michigan. Coach Don Lucia noted how the senior’s play has gotten better each year since coming as a true freshman. Lettieri had 95 points in 50 regular-season games at Minnetonka, and then played with Lincoln of the USHL, where he had 56 points in 61 games. Now he has 20 points in 21 games for the Gophers, good for third on the team.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org