Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has impressed his bosses more with process than results. That might have to change soon if he’s going to keep his job.
Spielman is a rarity in the NFL — a football boss with longevity who lacks postseason success and has been allowed to hire multiple coaches and conduct multiple overhauls. He ran the Dolphins for one season that lives in South Florida infamy, and has made Vikings personnel decisions since 2006.
During those 12 years running the football side of NFL organizations, Spielman’s teams are 90-101-1 with just one playoff victory. In 11 seasons running the Vikings, the team is 86-89-1.
Spielman has produced four playoff teams. He has built one exceptional team, the 2009 Vikings, and that team would not have been exceptional had Brett Favre not decided he wanted to beat the Packers.
You may give Spielman credit for building a roster that enticed Favre. Favre would not have signed with the Vikings if he hadn’t seen a potential winner.
Any general manager who lasts as long as Spielman has built a thick résumé of successes and failures, and has been dramatically affected by injuries and other forms of luck.
Aside from overall record, the easiest way to judge an NFL general manager is the track record of his first-round draft picks. With the Vikings, he has taken Chad Greenway, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Christian Ponder, Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, Anthony Barr, Teddy Bridgewater, Trae Waynes and Laquon Treadwell.
He also traded first-round draft picks for Jared Allen and Sam Bradford. Given the difficulty of player projection, that’s a pretty good group of players marred by a big miss on Ponder as a franchise quarterback.
Spielman has enjoyed enough success in player acquisition to encourage the Wilfs to believe that there are good days ahead. He is a workaholic and fastidious organizer who knows how to run a department, and as NFL novices the Wilfs have been grateful to lean on his experience and expertise.
But it would be logical to think that eventually Spielman will have to produce a big winner to keep his job.
This year is a good test of his acumen. Every player on the roster is his responsibility. If the Vikings avoid the devastating injuries that ruined the 2016 season, the 2017 team will be a fair representation of his talent evaluation.
This should be a playoff team. This could be a dangerous playoff team. If it’s not, this winter the Wilfs might want to ask whether the time has come to bring in a new football boss.
Mike Zimmer’s mentor, Bill Parcells, liked to say that you are what your record says you are. It would be dangerous for Spielman to agree with that sentiment.
When Spielman traded for Bradford last summer, he indicated that he believes the current roster can win big. He also might have been thinking, consciously or subconsciously, that he must win big soon to keep his job.
I agree with Spielman. He has built a strong roster, and he should be trying to win big, soon.
But if after a dozen years Spielman has one playoff victory to show for his efforts, the Wilfs will have to question whether Spielman’s efforts have yielded enough results.
I’m not necessarily advocating the firing of Spielman, even if the Vikings falter this year. There is downside risk to every firing. There is great risk that his replacement will turn the Vikings into the 49ers or Jets.
But the Wilfs have achieved almost all of their goals save one. They have learned how to operate an NFL franchise. They have produced playoff teams. They have landed a publicly financed stadium that is the envy of the NFL and is guaranteed to make them wealthier.
All that remains is winning a Super Bowl. A second straight disappointing season this deep in Spielman’s tenure likely would be viewed as problematic for ambitious owners, especially as the Super Bowl comes to town.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib.