Though he hates his springtime moniker, “Trader Rick” Spielman has earned it time and again over the 13 years he has overseen the Vikings draft.
Sometimes, it’s a badge of honor. Like two days in 2015 when he traded down twice, picked Danielle Hunter in the third round, went to bed, got up, traded down again, and picked Stefon Diggs in the fifth round.
Other times, the nickname is sarcastically pinned to him as a big red clown nose by passionate fans who want perfection in an imperfect process. Like trading up for Daniel Carlson, a kicker who got the boot after two games in 2018.
A year ago, in a much different world, Spielman used six trades to turn eight picks into a league-high 12 selections. We’re a long way from being able to pass final judgment on that class, but there are some good early returns.
Four of those moves last year came on Days 2 (second and third rounds) and 3 (fourth through seventh). Overall, 32 teams made 16 trades on Day 2 and 16 more on Day 3.
Spielman hopes that kind of leaguewide willingness to wheel and deal carries into Thursday night when the first all-virtual draft presents obvious communication hurdles as everyone shelters from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spielman doesn’t see a problem making trades in the first round, when teams have 10 minutes to pick, or the second round, when they have seven minutes. But the time drops to five minutes for Rounds 3-6 and four minutes for the seventh round.
“When it starts to get to five minutes, that’s when it’s going to get a little interesting so see if we have the same amount of trades,” Spielman said. “I know our philosophy is going to be just keep the same philosophy. With all the draft capital that we do have, we want to manipulate that to go get players or move back to accumulate as many picks as we can.”
With more holes to plug than at any other point in the past five years, the pressure never has been higher on Spielman heading into a draft. He won’t be done building the 2020 roster come Saturday night, but he also has little room for error in how he maximizes the 12 picks he has to maneuver the Vikings into situations where the best available player matches a need.
“We’re very comfortable in our ability to [make trades],” Spielman said. “But I don’t know how other teams feel right now. I feel if there are no serious glitches Thursday or Friday as trades are being made maybe teams will feel more comfortable in continuing to do as many trades.”
Since 2015, Spielman has made 20 draft-day trades, with 10 of those coming on Day 3.
In the past three drafts, he has collected 24 Day 3 picks, including nine in 2017 and nine last year.
His Day 3 success rate over the years has run the gamut, as one might expect.
From 2007 to ’10, he ran the draft without final say on personnel. His first Day 3 move: trading up for Brian Robison, a fourth-rounder who gave the Vikings 11 solid years.
A year later, John Sullivan was a hit. John David Booty, not so much.
Jamarca Sanford came along in 2009 and started 44 games as a seventh-round overachiever. A year later, Spielman traded up for Everson Griffen in the fourth round, but made Chris DeGeare one of his many swings and misses on Day 3 offensive linemen.
Spielman has selected 15 offensive linemen on Day 3 since 2007. Thirteen have come since 2011 when he gained final say as general manager.
Of those 15 linemen, eight who are no longer with the team never started a game for the Vikings. DeMarcus Love, Travis Bond, David Yankey, Tyrus Thompson and Colby Gossett never even played a game.
Defensive line has been a different story, of course. One recent example came in 2016 when Spielman traded down and picked a little-known hybrid linebacker from Vanderbilt.
Four years later, Stephen Weatherly became so good at defensive end that the Vikings couldn’t afford to keep him.
And that is but one hole that sends “Trader Rick” into his 14th Vikings draft looking to replenish the cupboard with affordable talent.