Minnesota Vikings' GM Rick Spielman is receiving plaudits from all corners for his round one maneuverings in this year's NFL draft. Convincing Cleveland to cede three second-day picks to move up one spot in the draft certainly supports that view--if not also saying something about Cleveland. Spielman relied on those extra picks to support a five-spot move out of the second round and into the bottom of the first round where he took Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith.
Most draft experts had Smith pegged as a late first round or early second round selection. Given that he fills a dramatic need for the Vikings at safety, and given, as well, that teams drafting between where the Vikings took Smith and where the Vikings otherwise would have drafted in the second round, the move up and the selection of Smith appear astute.
But as much as his first round maneuverings appear sagacious, the results merely reinforce the perception that Spielman's approach to free-agency was grossly flawed. Contending that the Vikings were "not merely one player away" from competing next year, Spielman essentially opted out of free-agency, signing only secondary players and doing little to address the Vikings' pressing need for starters at several positions.
In Matt Kalil and Smith, the Vikings have filled two immediate needs, leaving the team with needs at cornerback and wide-receiver. The team could have filled either need in free agency, leaving it either one or zero players away from fielding a competitive team at all positions in 2012. Instead, it opted for a route routinely debunked as a necessary or even useful route to success in the NFL--that of the slow build.
If the Vikings happen to identify a receiver or corner in pre-season cuts, all might still work out. If not, Minnesota ought justly to lament the missed opportunities presented in this year's free agency and, at the very least, consider the 2012 free-agency a learning moment going forward.
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