PHOENIX — So how confident is Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman that his team will return to the postseason after a one-year absence and win a playoff game for the first time since he was promoted to general manager in 2012?
“Very confident,” Spielman said Monday during the annual NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore hotel. “I think everybody in our building is very confident of that. We’ve worked extremely hard. The coaches, all our scouts, all the football operations, are working extremely hard. We’re very confident that we will have a very good football team next year.”
The Vikings haven’t won a playoff game since Brett Favre led them to a 34-3 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 17, 2010 — 2,642 days ago. They are 0-3 in playoff games since that day, including one-and-done appearances in the 2012 and 2015 seasons.
With that in mind, Spielman was asked if his faith in his system for building a team ever wavers during these weeks when he interacts face to face with peers who have experienced more tangible successes the past five seasons. The answer came before the question was even completed.
“No,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is you can’t control the uncontrollable. Hopefully we don’t have to go through the adversities that we faced every week last year. That’s part of the business, and you try to adjust the best you can. But I know we have a very talented young core of players on this roster. And we’re still adding talent to it.”
Owners Mark and Zygi Wilf have been coming to these annual meetings since they bought the Vikings from Red McCombs in 2005. As they move among peers who have won one or multiple Super Bowls — i.e. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has collected three of his five Lombardi Trophies since ’05 — the Wilfs are 1-4 in the postseason as owners.
How, Spielman was asked, do they stay so patient and maintain their faith in the current system being executed by Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer?
“I think they see the inside on how we do our business and how we try to handle everything first class,” Spielman said. “They see the quality of coaching we have. They also see a lot of quality players here. We just got to put it all together.”
Spielman’s restocking of the roster began in free agency with starters at both offensive tackles, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, and at running back with Latavius Murray. Of course, fewer injuries in 2017 would help even more.
“We had a pretty deep roster last year until we got decimated by injuries,” Spielman said of an 8-8 season in which the Vikings used 12 offensive linemen and lost their quarterback for 16 games, star running back for 13 and even their head coach for a prime-time game against the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys.
“But I think just everybody learned from [going 3-8] after starting out so fast. I think the adversities caught up with us, but as I reflect back on how we handled that … we were still very, very close to being a playoff team even with everything that happened. No one is satisfied. We’re very disappointed. But I think going through that adversity is going to make us stronger.”
Spielman also dismissed recent comments from Riki Ellison, the father of former Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison, who said the Vikings had “toxic leadership” and overworked their players. This came after Rhett left the Vikings via free agency to sign a four-year, $18 million deal ($8 million guaranteed) with the New York Giants.
Spielman subtly refuted Riki Ellison’s argument by pointing to how the Vikings’ organization handled Rhett after he tore a patellar tendon in his knee in the 2015 regular-season finale. Ellison came back from the devastating injury to play in 15 games in 2016.
“Rhett was a core player for us, a very good player who helped us win a lot of ballgames,” Spielman said. “I know all the work and effort he put into coming back from that serious knee injury, and all the work and effort that our medical staff put in to getting him back on the field. And I saw how our coaches handled him as far as making sure we were monitoring his reps so we could get him to Sundays and have him as productive as he could.
“So I give credit to Rhett, to the coaching staff, to our medical staff. I know how we handled that situation, and Rhett was rewarded for that with a pretty significant contract.”