As player personnel executive in two previous posts, Chicago and Miami, Rick Spielman endured considerable criticism for player personnel moves. His decisions led to his dismissal from both posts and resulted in his taking a position with the Minnesota Vikings that clearly was at least a partial step down from his previous jobs.
Perhaps during his years as a personnel executive in the NFL, newly minted Minnesota Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman has figured things out. As Vikings' Vice President of Player Personnel, Spielman contributed to identifying several players, however limited in base, now considered the heart of the team's current talent base--Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, John Sullivan, Kyle Rudolph, and Jared Allen. He also contributed to the decision-making that brought Brian Robison, Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, and Toby Gerhart to the team; though each of these players have shown promise, none have been consistent and all are still viewed as question marks in the league.
To the extent that Spielman receives credit for drafting Peterson and Harvin and bringing in Allen, he also deserves scrutiny for committing significant salary cap space to Peterson and Sullivan, with Peterson now on his second contract and probabilistically nearing the danger-zone of his running-back career and Sullivan having proven only that he is not as bad as those beside him; there is, subsequently, reason to be concerned that the team has over-committed in areas that it cannot afford to do so. There are also questions about Spielman's contributions to the team's apparent poor planning for the end of Steve Hutchinson's run at right guard, the possibility, now playing out, that Phil Loadholt is not a capable NFL tackle, how to replace Antoine Winfield at cornerback, and what to do about the secondary, in general.
Spielman also deserves scrutiny for putting together a team that focuses on the run but does not have the offensive line or the defense to make that a viable weekly system, envisioning a secondary that plays a scheme poorly suited for the Vikings' personnel, too often missing on players in the draft, and trading away picks to move up in the draft to take players that no other team appeared to have an interest in other than in much later rounds.
In Spielman's time in Minnesota, no single position is stronger, save for kicker. And, unfortunately, there appear to be few young players ready to step up. In fact, most disheartening of all in this lost season was that the Vikings failed to identify a single young player--outside of possibly Gerhart--who is prepared to play a meaningful role on next year's team but was not so identified going into the season. This, despite having nearly the entire season to audition talent.
When the Indianapolis Colts dismissed long-time General Manager Bill Polian, and his GM-in-waiting son, many assumed that the Vikings would at least test the waters, bringing in Polian, among others, to assess both interest and impressions of how to redirect the team. That the Vikings did not hire Polian is understandable. For all of his success in Indianapolis and Buffalo, much of it was the result of identifying great players early in the draft and working with those players through long careers. Polian had also made some poor decisions in recent drafts, however, most notably failing to identify a running back capable of carrying the load and failing to shore up the team's defense. That suggested that Polian was the polar opposite of Spielman and company, so wedded to the great quarterback system of the modern NFL that he too lightly regarded other areas; when Peyton Manning went down, the flaws inherent in such a perspective became both apparent and crippling.
Flaws notwithstanding, Polian had demonstrated an ability to put together an offensive line, draft the best offensive player available in later rounds of the draft, and identify a portion of what is necessary to succeed in the current NFL. That should have sufficed for the Vikings to at least bring Polian in for an interview, even if the team did not intend to hire him.
Instead, the Wilfs went with the easy, cost-effective, in-house move that suggests, in addition, that they think that the only problem with this year's team was that there were too many cooks in the kitchen. As if to signal that the less qualified cooks will remain in the kitchen, however, Zygi's brother, Mark, announced at the same press conference announcing Spielman's promotion, that he and Zygi were pleased to be keeping Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier for another season. That sounds like the Vikings still have at least three cooks at the top, and it's not at all clear that any of the three either are up to the task of putting together a contemporary NFL team.
Up Next: Necessary and Wishful Moves.