Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Vikings' Promotion of Spielman Another Hasty Move

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.

9 comments:

Childress of A Lesser God said...

I agree that even the most optimistic Vikings fan would be hard-pressed to believe that Spielman's promotion means the team will improve.

That said, its better than doing nothing. Spielman is now "The Boss" and can't hide behind the confusion inherent in the "Triangle of Authority" concept. The buck stops with him. If the team doesn't progress next year (which is likely), Spielman can be held accountable.

Also, the promotion essentially tells Fraiser, "Shut up and coach." For a guy that is already in over his head in his primary function, forcing him to defer to Spielman is a good thing.

Bottom line: Short of firing Spielman and Frazier (which was the best option), promoting Spielman certainly beats standing pat.

vikes geek said...

CLG,

I agree, though it's a bit like saying short of quelling the reactor meltdown, the best option was to make sure we knew who to blame after the meltdown. I also suspect that Spielman will have ample opportunity to legitimately point the finger upstairs on at least one horrendous off-season move (OK, make that two now that the first has already been made).

This should be the most significant off-season in team history. If the team blows the draft and free-agency, it could take several years to recover. If it does the right thing in both arenas, next year should be at least interesting.

VG

comet52 said...

I would at least give Spielman a year or two to see what happens. When he had a relaxed, candid converstation with Mike Mayock on a Vikes preseason broadcast a couple years ago, I was impressed with his acumen. Viking fans have all sorts of opinions about this guy that are all over the map but for the most part, we don't know much about what decisions have been his versus Leslie, Wilf, Childress, etc. At least now he can say no to Leslie bringing in more of his inept slappies like McNabb and Singletary to wreck the team. Personally I don't think a new era for the Vikes will begin until 2013, after Spielman cans Frazier for another lousy year.

Cyd said...

I would have preferred that the Wilfs (or is it Wilves ;) lol) have interviewed outside candidates for the GM position, though I can understand why they went this way. It allows continuity for the players that will be here next year. A new GM may have wanted to shake things up immediately and this is a more palatable and stable option for the ownership etc.

It also allows Spielman and Frazier another year of trying to get this thing turned in the right direction and hopefully we'll see some good results in FA and the draft. If not, a thorough cleansing would be in order.

comet52 said...

Oh and p.s. he was a scout for the Lions, not G.M. Nor was he G.M. at Chicago. The situation in Miami was similar to things here with Chili. If you want to be critical that's your prerogative but don't just make stuff up.

Childress of A Lesser God said...

Honest question:

Who do you believe is currently better at his job: Spielman as a talent evaluator or Frasier as a head coach?

vikes geek said...

Cyd,

I understand the move, but there are some good people just sitting on the sidelines right now (i.e. Jeff Fisher). Moreover, if the calculation of progress through continuity fails, this team will be far worse off next year than it is this year and it will take that much longer for someone to correct the team's problems.

VG

vikes geek said...

CLG,

It's a good question and a difficult one to answer because we do not know the extent to which Spielman has held sway in the draft. We do know that Spielman was an ardent proponent of the Allen deal, drafting down out of the first round and taking Chris Cook, drafting Tyrell Johnson, Toby Gerhart, Christian Ponder, and Kyle Rudolph. He also appears to have wavered on Harvin. Giving Spielman full credit for each of these moves--as well as two nearly empty draft classes--his tenure as a personnel guy for the Vikings probably best can be summarized as almost average. At worst, however, one can scan the field and note that not one single position is better situated now than when Spielman arrived in Minnesota and it is difficult to be quite as generous.

That calls into question coaching, as well, however. Since Spielman's arrival, Minnesota has had two underwhelming coaches. Childress was an ideologue who lived in another era of the NFL--somewhere around the time of the inception of the forward pass--and Frazier seems to utterly lack any sense of how to remedy any of the team's short-comings. At the beginning of the year, the Vikings were lamenting close losses. At the end of the year, the sense of defeat permeated from the outset of the game. That, despite playing one of the weakest schedules that the team has ever faced.

My hunch is that, despite not having the benefits of a front office the likes of Baltimore's, Green Bay's, Philly's, New York's (Giants), San Francisco's, New England's, or many others, Frazier too often seems confused on the field. More alarming, however, is that he concedes (correctly) errors in the team's approach to the game, noting errors that ought to have been eminently correctible in game (such as how to cover the opponent's one capable receiver, whether to incorporate Harvin/Rudolph/Shiancoe into the game plan, whether to return kicks into the endzone and the like), only after the game is lost.

I like Frazier as a person, but did not think he did a great job with the secondary (his purported calling card) as defensive coordinator and have seen little that has impressed me from a head coach/management perspective this year. Picking between Spielman and Frazier likely is splitting hairs, but I'd probably give the nod to Spielman, if only because he did not protest the drafting of either Peterson or Harvin and traded for Allen.

VG

joseph burrell said...

sometimes I think that they managers of the Vikins are some clowns because they make me laugh and sometimes cry with their decisions and I can bet on a price per head sportsbook that they won't change anytime soon