The date was April 20. Late afternoon, nine days before the NFL draft. And Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was alone, walking laps around the team's indoor field at TCO Performance Center.
"I sent everyone home early," he said.
For Spielman, the brief pause on this particular day was necessary. The guilty verdicts against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd had just been read.
"It's such an emotional time for everybody," Spielman said. "I just felt people needed a break to be home with their families."
The NFL's unrelenting drumbeat resumed the next morning, a continuation of a blistering pace the likes of which even Spielman has never seen.
"Because there was no combine, I never traveled as much as I traveled in March," Spielman said in an interview with the Star Tribune. "I think I was home maybe five days."
A year ago, the combine was held shortly before the pandemic shuttered everyone's doors. This year, the combine was canceled, forcing personnel people to hit the road for more in-person pro days than ever.
"It was especially important to go see the guys who opted out last season because you haven't seen them move in a year," Spielman said. "And I don't know how many Zoom calls we've done with players. Probably more than 200."
Spielman will make permanent some of the changes forced on him by the pandemic. While teams typically get 15 minutes at a time with players at the combine, this spring's video sessions lasted up to an hour.
"The virtual meetings early in the process in February is an efficient way of doing things," Spielman said. "But, hopefully, we get back to normal with a combine and all the all-star games. Having the Senior Bowl this year was invaluable."
The medical reports are another concern this year, he added.
"We're still waiting on pending MRIs on some of these guys," he said nine days before the draft.
Normally, teams have access to hands-on medical evaluations on all 330 players at the combine. This year, the NFL had 150 top prospects get independent evaluations, which were then shared virtually with each team.
"There's always challenges," Spielman said. "A year ago, we were locked in."
And yet the Vikings did OK in the 2020 draft. More than OK at the top as their first four picks became valuable starters, led by Pro Bowl phenom Justin Jefferson, the fifth receiver selected when the Vikings took him at No. 22.
"I'm not going to say how we ranked the receivers, but I'd just say we were overly thrilled Justin was there when we picked," Spielman said. "As we waited, I kind of reflected back to when we waited instead of moving up to get Adrian Peterson."
An attempt to move up at least two spots was discussed, knowing the receiver-needy Eagles were sitting at No. 21.
"Sometimes, you just hold your breath and wait," Spielman said. "That's why you have three or four options."
The Eagles did indeed pick a receiver. But Spielman's buddy Howie Roseman picked TCU's Jalen Reagor.
Spielman isn't about to cast any stones, however. He knows that four years earlier, he and the organization whiffed on Laquon Treadwell, a receiver picked 23rd overall.
"I would just say when Laquon didn't pan out, you always go back and revisit the decisions you make, especially the ones that don't work out," Spielman said. "What were the determining factors why it didn't work out? Then you make sure the next time you're in a scenario like that that you understand what went wrong. Nobody bats 1.000 in this business."
Spielman says one of his draft philosophies is to always be as "aggressive as possible, but not reckless." It's worked for him before, but it also cost him this year's 45th overall selection when he sent a second-round pick to the Jaguars for Yannick Ngakoue last summer.
"When we did that, we were still expecting Danielle [Hunter] to come back from his neck injury," Spielman said. "We were imagining those two coming off our edges."
Hunter missed the season. Ngakoue was traded to Baltimore for a third-round pick when the Vikings fell to 1-5 at the bye. He still led the team in sacks with 5 ½.
"We talked through trading for Yannick with the coaches and everybody felt good about it," Spielman said. "Sometimes, it fits and sometimes it doesn't. It just didn't work out the way we envisioned it. When that happens, how do you try to recover?"
Knowing they couldn't afford to re-sign Ngakoue after the season, the Vikings could have kept him and probably gotten a 2022 third-round compensatory pick when he signed elsewhere. But Spielman chose to take Baltimore's third-round offer in 2021 while recouping the 2022 conditional fifth-round pick that would have gone to Jacksonville.
With only one swing in the top 77 picks (for now), the Vikings are presumed to be eyeballing an offensive lineman with the 14th overall pick this year.
Maybe, maybe not, said Spielman, who currently has 10 picks this week.
"We're looking at other positions as well because the offensive line is a pretty deep class through the second and third rounds," he said. "We got two thirds and [four] fourth-round picks. We got the ammo to get back into the second round.
"And look at last year, when we traded down in the first round and got Jeff Gladney and some extra picks. That could be the scenario again this year. Maybe we move back and get a second-round pick back. I don't worry because I know we've always been able to move down or up in the draft."