Minnesota Vikings: Rick Spielman

MANKATO, Minn. -- The process that led to Kyle Rudolph earning a new contract from the Minnesota Vikings, which culminated in a hug and words of congratulations from general manager Rick Spielman after Sunday's practice, seemed about as devoid of drama and tension as either side could have wanted.

Rudolph
Rudolph made it known at the end of last season he wanted to stay in Minnesota; the Vikings spoke highly of the big tight end and said they wanted the same thing. They hired an offensive coordinator with a history of featuring tight ends; Rudolph responded by taking a more serious look at his offseason nutrition program, dropping 15 pounds and sharpening his technique as a receiver. He said he hoped to get a contract done before the season; the Vikings met with his agents in the Twin Cities on July 15 to begin discussions on a deal.

There seemed to be little chance of the Vikings letting Rudolph get to free agency next spring, not when they had taken him in the second round of the 2011 draft, not when he was one of the only viable candidates for a contract extension before next season. But the toothy smile Rudolph flashed when talking about the contract on Monday let everyone know even an inevitable payoff was sweet.

"Being the organization that took a chance on me out of the draft, being hurt at the time and still drafting me when they did and now giving me this extension, it shows the faith that they have in me," Rudolph said. "Certain people have the opportunity to change your life, and I can't thank Rick and (assistant GM) Rob (Brzezinski) enough for that opportunity."

Now comes the hard part for Rudolph. He will have to play well enough to maximize the value of his contract, which pays him a $6.5 million signing bonus and effectively guarantees his $956,343 base salary in the final season of his rookie deal. The five-year, $36.5 million deal could be worth up to $40 million if Rudolph triggers incentives in the contract, and though another $12 million of the deal is currently guaranteed for injury only, that money will become fully guaranteed by the start of the 2016 league year, coming to Rudolph in separate chunks on the third day of the 2015 and 2016 league years.

But the tight end, as usual, seemed sensible about the contract on Monday. He said he didn't plan to buy himself anything special, adding his only plan was to fulfill a promise to his old strength coach and pay to remodel the weight room at his alma mater, Elder High School in Cincinnati.

As for the Vikings, Rudolph wants to make sure they get a good return on their investment.

"Essentially, if you look at this from a business side, I'm here for the next three years (anyway) because of the last year of my deal and opportunity to be franchised twice," he said. "So they felt like it was important to keep me here for a long time. It instills a responsibility to become one of the veteran leaders in the locker room. We have a lot of young guys on this team and it's weird for me to see that now, four years later I'm one of the veterans in the locker room who have to bring those guys along so we can win football games."
MANKATO, Minn. -- According to the summary the Minnesota Vikings released last week of an independent investigation into former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations, long snapper Cullen Loeffler was the only member of the team to corroborate Kluwe's claim that special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer made a homophobic remark during the 2012 season. But if Kluwe contends he was released in part because of his support for same-sex marriage, Loeffler said he never felt in danger of losing his job for telling investigators he remembered Priefer making the statement.

Loeffler
"I was never worried about my job, never worried about the Vikings' support," Loeffler said. "They’ve been very supportive throughout the process. Just wanted me to cooperate, which I did."

Loeffler, who told investigators that he and Kluwe both laughed off Priefer's comment about "putting all the gays on an island and nuking it," said again on Thursday he remembered thinking the remark was a joke. He said he hasn't talked to Kluwe since the former punter published his allegations in a Deadspin piece on Jan. 2, and said he was glad the investigation had come to a close.

According to the summary, Loeffler met with Vikings executive director of player development/legal Les Pico after Kluwe asked him to sign an affidavit confirming the remarks in May 2013. Kluwe told investigators that Loeffler was concerned he would be "blacklisted" from the NFL if he was associated with a controversy involving Priefer. The summary said Pico told Loeffler he felt a need to alert general manager Rick Spielman and vice president of legal affairs Kevin Warren about the situation, even though Kluwe wanted it to remain private and avoid any risk of jeopardizing Loeffler's job status.

Asked about his conversations with Pico on Thursday, Loeffler said, "At the time I wasn’t really sure what was going to come out of it. Really everything that I’ve said is in the report. If you want to address that question you can address it from the report."

Pico has declined comment since the summary was published, referring questions to his attorneys.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Fans who were expecting to sit behind the Minnesota Vikings' bench on the south sideline at TCF Bank Stadium this fall won't be doing that after all.

The Vikings made the decision to switch from the south to the north sideline at their temporary home on the University of Minnesota campus, as they move outdoors for the first time in 33 years. General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer had made several trips to the stadium to make preparations for the 2014 season, and the Vikings realized the north sideline will afford them more time in the warmth of the sunshine late this season, when the sun sets by 5 p.m. in Minnesota and heat is at a premium.

The press box is in the southeast corner of the stadium, and there is club seating on the south side, which means the south sideline is in the shadows during late-season games. The Vikings will return to the south sideline when their new indoor stadium opens in 2016, so fans who bought tickets expecting to sit behind the bench in the new stadium won't see any change to their plans.

For now, though, the Vikings are trying to get a handle on outdoor home games for the first time since 1981, and they're hoping to gain a slight edge from the switch.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A look at the highlights from Day 2 of the Minnesota Vikings' mandatory minicamp on Wednesday:

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Jim Mone/AP PhotoVikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater runs through drills in Wednesday's minicamp.
1. Bridgewater solid, drops hurt Cassel: The Vikings again gave Matt Cassel most of the first-team snaps at quarterback, but Cassel's final numbers were tarnished by a handful of drops from his receivers. Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson each dropped a pass, and one of Teddy Bridgewater's two incompletions for the day was a drop (from Jarius Wright). Cassel also had three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Bridgewater mostly threw to backup receivers like Adam Thielen, Josh Cooper and AC Leonard, but connected on 15 of his 17 passes for the day, and won praise from offensive coordinator Norv Turner for throwing a better deep ball than many expected him to have. "It's just been all footwork -- laying it and playing," Bridgewater said. Christian Ponder got just three throws, completing all of them.

2. More work for Barr: Once again, the Vikings gave rookie linebacker Anthony Barr plenty of different looks in their defense, lining him up as an edge rusher and working him in their nickel package alongside Chad Greenway. Barr flashed some impressive edge speed on one rush from the left end spot, and might have sacked Bridgewater had he been allowed to do so. It's clear the Vikings are exploring the options provided by Barr's versatility; they dropped Brian Robison into coverage at one point while Barr was rushing the quarterback.

3. Blanton paired with Smith again: The Vikings continued their rotation of safeties, but once again, they had Robert Blanton working with Harrison Smith. They've used that combination quite a bit in organized team activities and minicamp, though it's hard to assume anything with Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo limited because of injuries. Still, Blanton is getting a chance to make a case for a job opposite his former Notre Dame teammate.

4. Greenway impresses: Playing in nickel coverage, Greenway had a nice breakup of a throw from Cassel over the middle, diving in front of Kyle Rudolph to swat a pass away from the tight end.

5. Audition for Patterson's backup: With wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson likely to take on a bigger role in the Vikings' offense this year, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is making similar plans to what the Vikings did to keep Percy Harvin fresh. Priefer said he wants a second kickoff return man ready to go in case the Vikings need to reduce Patterson's workload there, and he had Captain Munnerlyn, Jarius Wright and Kain Colter fielding kicks on Wednesday.

6. Notable visitors: Former University of Minnesota linebacker Peter Westerhaus, who was forced to retire from football after he was diagnosed with a severe form of ulcerative colitis, visited practice on Wednesday. Westerhaus was presented with this year's Courage Award from the Minnesota chapter of the National Football Foundation in May, at an event sponsored by the Vikings. Mike Grant -- the son of Hall of Fame Vikings coach Bud Grant and the winner of six state championships as the coach at Eden Prairie High School -- also was on hand for practice. Grant is also the athletic director at Eden Prairie, where two of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman's sons won a state lacrosse championship last week.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Zimmer's admission at the NFL's career-development symposium that he thought briefly about not going on a second interview with the Minnesota Vikings was a refreshing -- if surprising -- bit of candor from a coach who has seemed confident in his approach to the job ever since he became the team's coach on Jan. 15. Zimmer, according to Fox Sports, had been beaten down by enough rejections, including one that presumably came from the Tennessee Titans just before he interviewed with the Vikings, that he wondered if his time had passed him by.

Zimmer
Zimmer said on Wednesday he only had passing thoughts about not going on the Vikings interview. But after nearly five months on the job in Minnesota, Zimmer said, he has seen the previous rejections in a new light.

"It's probably been a blessing in disguise that I didn't get this job or that job," he said at the Vikings' annual playground build event on Wednesday. "This was the one that was right for me. Sometimes, that's just how it is: Things don't work out for whatever reason, but you get in the right situation, and it just happens to fall into place."

There is a kernel of truth in those remarks that can relate to any job seeker in any industry, as rare as it might be to hear them from an NFL coach. Both Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have talked on multiple occasions about how the fit felt right between the coach and the team, and they seemed to quickly connect on a personal and professional level. We're a long way from knowing how the relationship will pan out in the end -- it's easy for everyone to say they're happy in June, three months before there is anything significant at stake -- but Zimmer's point is a good one: Not every job is right for every candidate, and sometimes, it's just about finding a match.

"When I got up here and spent more time with people in the organization, got a chance to be around some of the players, I felt like it was a perfect fit," Zimmer said. "Since the day I walked in, I don't think there could have been a better situation for me. I think what it demonstrates, though, is you've got to keep persevering all the time, no matter how despondent you get at certain times."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- With the 2014 NFL draft over, the Minnesota Vikings got to work on Saturday evening, signing a group of undrafted free agents to join the 10 players they took in the draft.

The Vikings announced they had agreed with 15 undrafted free agents as of Saturday night, though the players still have to pass physicals before they'll be able to participate in the team's rookie camp next week. The most prominent name in the group is former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who led the effort of Northwestern players to form a union and argue that they should receive the basic rights of employees.

If all 15 players' contracts are finalized, the Vikings would have 93 players under contract, and would need to make several roster moves to get down to the NFL's 90-contract limit.

"There are guys on the bottom end of our roster," general manager Rick Spielman said. "We feel some of these college free agents are going to have a chance to come in and compete and then there may be a couple roster moves to make sure we get to 90 players. The draft picks are going to count because this goes up to 90 players but our college free agents won’t sign their contracts till they get in. Once they get in and pass their physicals, will then make sure we are at 90 players where we need to be."

Here is the full list of players to agree to terms with the Vikings:

AC Leonard, TE, Tennessee State

Kain Colter, WR, Northwestern

Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee

Zac Kerin, C, Toledo

Pierce Burton, OT, Mississippi

Matt Hall, OT, Belhaven

Austin Wentworth, OG Fresno State

Isame Faciane, NT, Florida International

Dominique Williams, HB, Wagner

Jake Snyder, DE, Virginia

Erik Lora, WR, Eastern Illinois

Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern

Donte Foster, WR, Ohio

Rakim Cox, DE, Villanova
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings made four picks on the first two days of the NFL draft. Their first one was a running back who posted 13.5 sacks in just his second year as a defensive end, and their last one was a cornerback-turned-triple-option-quarterback who will try his hand at running back in the NFL. Their third pick of the draft added a versatile, energetic pass rusher to a defensive line that already has several of those, and their second pick staked the future of their franchise on a 22-year-old quarterback who slid from the top of the first round to the bottom of it.

If the Vikings had entered the 2014 draft merely with the idea of patching holes on their roster after a 5-10-1 season, this wouldn't necessarily have been the way to go about it. But what has been clear in the first two days of the draft is that the Vikings are after something else: a group full of young, athletically-gifted players who only need a coaching staff to unlock the potential. This draft has been a bet on the ability of Mike Zimmer's coaching staff to develop talent, as much as defensive end Everson Griffen's contract represented a $20 million wager on the same idea, and the Vikings seem plenty confident in what their new coaches will be able to get out of the group.

"That kind of really excites me anyway," Zimmer said. "I love taking guys with talent and coaching that, because those kind of guys you can take them a lot further. The guys who don’t have as much talent and are good you can make them better players. But these kind of guys [like first-round pick Anthony Barr], you know, he played two years at running back and then moved over to linebacker and had a really good year the year before and then a good year again this year. He is still learning a lot of different things and we will be able to teach him a lot."

The shift has been particularly evident on defense, where Zimmer has had the biggest impact and where the Vikings plan to shift to a more aggressive style of play. But it hasn't been confined to that side of the ball. Third-round pick Jerick McKinnon, the Georgia Southern quarterback, wowed teams at the NFL scouting combine with a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 40 1/2-inch vertical and 32 bench press repetitions at 225 pounds (or more than twice as many as Barr did). Then he performed what Spielman called one of the longest and most interesting workouts he'd ever seen, working as a running back, a punt returner and a cornerback at Georgia Southern. Spielman said offensive coordinator Norv Turner compared the 5-foot-9 McKinnon to dynamos like Brian Mitchell and Darren Sproles, and while the Vikings certainly aren't looking for someone to supplant Adrian Peterson, McKinnon could give them something they haven't had in a long time.

The Vikings' draft strategy so far has been full of gambles -- and as impressive as Teddy Bridgewater's college resume is, taking a quarterback in the first round always carries considerable risk. But on the first two days of the draft, the Vikings haven't been confined by position or convention, and the payoff could be a roster full of unique players.

"I get really intrigued if they are great kids and hard workers, but if they have athletic ability and if they're great athletes, that just intrigues me," Spielman said. "And I know it intrigues the coaches, because they love to work with guys like that."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- If there was one thing that wore the sheen off the Minnesota Vikings' pick of Christian Ponder quicker than any other, it was how the quarterback reacted when he was under pressure. It was there -- when Ponder would fixate on a pass rush, either pulling the ball down to run after his first read or forcing a throw -- where his appeal as an intelligent, engaging young quarterback dissipated, and it was there that the Vikings most needed to make sure their next young passer could be better.

So they commissioned a deep analytical study of the quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class -- true to Rick Spielman's style as a general manager -- and as they measured how this crop of passers handled pressure, they kept coming back to one name: Teddy Bridgewater.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater completed over 53 passes of his passes last season when he was under duress.
The Louisville quarterback wasn't just competent against a pass rush, he was better than anybody else in the class. He completed 53.5 percent of his passes under duress, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, throwing for 508 yards and connecting on seven touchdown passes against one interception. Only Florida State's Jameis Winston and Missouri's James Franklin were better. Bridgewater hit 70.1 percent of his throws against pass rushes of five or more; UCLA's Brett Hundley was the only FBS QB with a higher completion percentage.

"He was the best against the blitz. He's very cool and calm under pressure," Spielman said.

Bridgewater saw plenty of other pressure during the pre-draft process, following a heavily scrutinized pro day that dinged his draft stock and removed him from the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick. His decision not to wear a glove, after throwing with one during his college career, backfired, and the narrative changed to whether Bridgewater would go in the first round of the draft at all. But once offensive coordinator Norv Turner started coaching Bridgewater during a workout in Florida last month, Spielman said, "some of the flaws you may have seen during the original pro day, those things were getting corrected, and getting corrected quickly."

The quarterback said in a conference call on Thursday night that he met "four or five times" with the Vikings, and had told coach Mike Zimmer he thought Minnesota was the place for him. Zimmer talked during the pre-draft process about how important it was for a quarterback to mirror his personality, and with Bridgewater, he clicked.

"You know the thing I like the most about him? He wins," Zimmer said. "Everywhere he's ever been, he wins. Starts as a freshman in high school: wins. Starts as a freshman in college, and wins. This guy, he's got something about him. One of the reasons we had him come in [to Minnesota] was, he had another physical. He had a little thing about his heart. I said, 'How's your heart?' He said, 'Well, it was too big.'"

He impressed the Vikings with how he handled adversity off the field, but Bridgewater initially stood out because of how he managed it on the field. That was one thing the Vikings needed their next quarterback to do well, and it's what set Bridgewater apart from the rest of the group.
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Since he became the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in January, Mike Zimmer has been working to remake the team's defense in his image. He needed a run-stuffing nose tackle; the Vikings signed one in Linval Joseph. Zimmer needed an upgrade at slot cornerback; the Vikings paid Captain Munnerlyn to fill that role.

Barr
But as much as the Vikings had done for the first and last layers of Zimmer's defense, they were still missing a key ingredient in the middle of the sandwich: a speedy, disruptive linebacker who could blitz from the strongside position and hunt down running backs. Zimmer wanted one badly enough in his final year in Cincinnati that the Bengals signed former 3-4 linebacker James Harrison at age 35, put him on the strong side of their 4-3 defense and asked him to perform many of the same functions he did in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

In Minnesota, Zimmer now has a younger and bigger linebacker to do that job. His name is Anthony Barr, and after the Vikings took him with the ninth pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, Barr became the clearest sign that a major shift is coming to Minnesota's defense.

He is 6-foot-4, 255 pounds -- essentially the same size as defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison -- and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds. Barr has spent two years at linebacker, after he asked UCLA coach Jim Mora about switching from running back to linebacker two years ago, and he had 13 1/2 sacks in the Bruins' 3-4 defense last year. Many had projected Barr would fit best with a 3-4 team, but in Minnesota he'll be one of the keys to a defense predicated on active linebackers.

"Typically, our 'Sam' linebacker blitzes a lot more than our 'Will' linebacker, for instance," Zimmer said. "We're thinking of ways to continually try to pressure the quarterback as many times as we can, and the position he plays is a pressure position. That's why we felt good about him."

Think about how different that sounds from the way the Vikings have operated in the past. In Leslie Frazier's Cover 2 scheme, the responsibility for rushing the passer rested largely with the defensive ends, while linebackers were asked to drop into coverage and take away zones in the middle of the field. It asked linebackers to be reliable defenders, not agents of chaos. In Zimmer's defense, those expectations will change.

That's why the coach pushed for Barr, whom general manager Rick Spielman said was the second-best pass-rusher in the draft behind Jadeveon Clowney, and that's why it shouldn't come as a surprise the Vikings want to feature him. Putting Barr at strongside linebacker also doesn't mean the Vikings are phasing out Chad Greenway; Zimmer pointed out that Greenway's position would actually be weakside linebacker in his defense, and added he envisions both players on the field at the same time. Spielman talked in March about how Zimmer had some different ideas for Greenway, and while the coach didn't elaborate on those ideas Thursday, he said, "Chad can play anywhere."

For the strongside linebacker position in his defense, though, Zimmer needed a specific kind of player. He got his man in Barr, and his remodel of the Vikings' defense took a significant step forward.
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The pick: After trading down one spot with the Cleveland Browns for the second time in three years, the Minnesota Vikings filled one of their biggest holes on defense by selecting UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr with the ninth overall pick.

My take: The Vikings needed an impact linebacker, and Barr certainly has the potential to fill that role. He's certainly raw (he played only 27 games at linebacker in college) and will need work to turn into the kind of disruptive force the Vikings are hoping to get at the position. But it's tough to argue with his physique -- he's 6-foot-4 and ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. His 15 repetitions in the bench press at the combine were the worst among linebackers, but he'll get stronger as he enters the league. It was important for the Vikings to get speed and athleticism in their linebacking group, and they've got it now.

Trading with Browns again: The Vikings acquired the 145th overall pick in the draft to move back one spot, trading with the Browns two years after they slipped back from No. 3 to No. 4 and took Matt Kalil. This time, the Browns moved up to get Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert after trading from No. 4 to No. 9. The Vikings now have nine picks in the draft; Spielman usually likes to have 10, but he's got extra flexibility now if he wants to make a move back up.

What's next: The Vikings have three picks on the second day of the draft -- Nos. 40, 72 and 96. They've traded back into the first round the past two years, though, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Rick Spielman make a deal later on Thursday night.

MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Vikings finally get on the clock with the No. 8 overall pick, sometime around 9:30 ET/8:30 CT on Thursday night, they'll be in possession of a pick that has seemingly vexed the draft experts for a while now. At No. 8, the Vikings could be too late to take the standout defensive players in the draft (South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo's Khalil Mack), in little need of the offensive tackles at the top of the board (Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Auburn's Greg Robinson and Michigan's Taylor Lewan) and unsure about the reliability of the quarterbacks they might find there (Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater).

It's part of the reason there's a wide range of opinions in today's final round of mock drafts -- ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider have the Vikings taking Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, respectively, and the rest of the mocks have a wide range of names, from Bortles to Bridgewater to Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and linebacker C.J. Mosley to Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans. The Vikings have enough needs, and the draft is deep enough, that they're not likely to have any shortage of options at No. 8, but in an important draft for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and the first one for new coach Mike Zimmer, the pick is an important one to get right.

So which direction will the Vikings take? Here's our best guess, in order from most to least likely, about the way they'll approach the eighth pick on Thursday night:

1. Draft a defensive player

The most compelling decision the Vikings could face on Thursday night might happen if the top quarterbacks, such as Bortles and Manziel, are still on the board and the team has to decide whether to pass on one of them to take a defensive player. If presented with that decision, the Vikings will indeed opt for defense, I believe. I had them selecting Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard in our ESPN NFL Nation mock (albeit after trading down one spot), but I could have taken Bortles with the eighth pick and didn't. The Vikings will have enough quarterback options later in this draft, and they were in bad enough need of a talent upgrade on defense, that I think they'll ultimately address that side of the ball if they stay at No. 8. It could be by taking one of the cornerbacks, such as Dennard or Gilbert. It could be by taking Donald (and sorting out where he'll fit with Sharrif Floyd later), or it could be by drafting a linebacker such as Mosley or UCLA's Anthony Barr. Ultimately, though, I believe the Vikings will help their defense first and come back for a QB later.

2. Trade down

My approach in our NFL Nation mock draft was ultimately a hybrid of No. 1 and 2, but I would have moved back further if there had been a market to do so. The Vikings might be able to find that market -- Spielman said on Tuesday he'd already heard from suitors for several of his picks, and moving out of the No. 8 spot would help him reach the sum of 10 picks the general manager likes to have. The Vikings might still be able to get a defensive player that makes sense after moving back several picks, and they'd also have the flexibility to deal back into the first round, like they've done each of the past two years. I had them doing that in our mock draft, moving up to No. 31 to select Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. Even if the Vikings move back into the first round, they could benefit from extra picks on the first two days of a deep draft.

3. Select a quarterback

If I had to place a percentage on the likelihood of this happening, I'd put it somewhere around 30 or so; as we've discussed, the Vikings could find enough other options later that they'd have to be completely enamored with one of the top QBs to take him at No. 8. Of the top quarterbacks, Bortles seems like the best fit for Norv Turner's offense, though there's been some steam around Bridgewater in the last few days. One Vikings coach told ESPN's Bob Holtzman, though, that it's "highly unlikely we take a quarterback."

4. Find another weapon for the offense

After Spielman mentioned on Tuesday that the mock drafts were missing some names the Vikings could consider at No. 8, we discussed Evans as a possible option. The threshold would have to be high for the Vikings to take a player like Evans (or, if he slides far enough, Clemson's Sammy Watkins) when they still need help on defense, but as we discussed, there's a school of thought that the Vikings could keep adding weapons to their offense, in order to keep up with the three high-powered passing games in their division and make things easier for their quarterback, whether that's Matt Cassel or a young player they eventually draft.

5. Trade up

I just don't see this one happening, unless Mack slides far enough that the Vikings can get him without giving away the better part of their draft; Spielman said on Tuesday that mid-round picks are more valuable this year, because of the quality of the draft, and it seems more likely the Vikings will take advantage of that, rather than dealing away several picks to move up. According to the trade value chart many teams use as a rule of thumb on trades, it would probably cost the Vikings their second-round pick, and both of their third-rounders, to jump from No. 8 to No. 3, where they might need to land to get Mack. A move from No. 8 to No. 5, according to the trade chart, would only require the Vikings to give up their second- and fourth-round picks, but I can't see the Vikings moving any higher than that, and any first-round trade up seems like a remote possibility.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Since he started running the Minnesota Vikings' drafts in 2007, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman hasn't been shy about making moves before and during the draft. Spielman has made 16 trades involving an exchange of draft picks, trading up seven times and moving down in the draft nine times. And when Spielman's had reason to move up, it's usually been because he has his eye on an impact player: his moves up the draft board netted Cordarrelle Patterson, Harrison Smith and Brian Robison, among others.

(The Vikings technically moved down in the 2008 draft, based on the exchange of picks in the Jared Allen trade, but the deal might have been Spielman's boldest with the Vikings, bringing a four-time Pro Bowler to Minnesota in exchange for four picks. Additionally, they got the 187th pick in the trade with the Chiefs, and used it to take center John Sullivan.)

This year, if the Vikings are going to make a trade in the first round of the draft, it seems likely their first step would be a move downward; Spielman typically likes to have 10 picks in a draft, and is currently in possession of eight. He could pick up a couple more if the Vikings move back from the No. 8 overall pick, and that might give Spielman the flexibility to do what he's done each of the last two years, moving back into the first round to take another player.

Spielman said on Tuesday that he'd already received three calls and two text messages about possible trades, adding he'd already had offers for the Vikings' second- and fourth-round picks, among others. "Everybody is just kind of starting to line up their dance partners," he said. "It doesn't usually happen till (you) get on the clock. At least you know on potential teams who may be interested in coming up into your spot."

On Tuesday, Spielman said, the Vikings went through one of the exercises they'd used the last two years, running through a four-hour scenario of how the Vikings would handle a trade down and whom they'd target if they moved back to a certain spot.

"We do that when we're at our secondround picks (too)," Spielman said. "We go through all different kinds of mocks. To me, people get tired of talking about everything. But the more I hear things, the more we can put ourselves in scenarios, when it comes up on draft day, you've already kind of experienced the worst thing that can happen to you on draft day and how you would react.

"I think that's really helped especially over the last two years of knowing when to move down, when to trade back up, when to go get players that you covet. I think that's been beneficial. I love to be active on draft day."
PetersonMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Peterson's future could be directly affected by how the Minnesota Vikings address their quarterback situation.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Later this week, the Minnesota Vikings will likely pick their next young quarterback, possibly with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. If you're looking for a way to frame the importance of the Vikings' next move at QB, perhaps the easiest metric is to consider how many careers could be permanently changed by the choice.

General manager Rick Spielman needs to make his next call at quarterback the correct one or he could find himself out of chances to make the Vikings' decision at the position. New coach Mike Zimmer knows full well he'll be tied to a young QB -- as he said at the owners meetings -- and a position that has such a dramatic effect on wins and losses can influence the coach's job security too (just ask Zimmer's predecessor, Leslie Frazier).

But with all due respect to Spielman and Zimmer, there's one stakeholder in the Vikings' quarterback situation who could be affected the most profoundly: Adrian Peterson.

The running back turned 29 in March and is coming off his third offseason surgery in as many years. He will likely see his role change under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, trading some carries for pass receptions that are meant to reduce the physical toll on Peterson but essentially make him even more dependent on competent quarterback play. In fact, the effect of the QB situation on Peterson seemed to be one of the things Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman was most concerned about when he lamented the state of the Vikings' quarterback situation at the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest event in Cleveland on Sunday.

"Don't put him in a Barry Sanders situation," Doleman said, as if speaking to Spielman. "That's not fair, and the fan base deserves more. You've got a job. Do the job. I think too much information [before the draft] is taken in and clouds everyone's vision. Let me find a football player that is a quarterback; a football player, and I keep using that word. Let him play football."

Peterson admitted last week he is feeling "some urgency" as he heads into his eighth season and adapts to Turner's new offense, and he has every reason to be keenly interested in what the Vikings do at quarterback. In fact, people close to Peterson have invoked Sanders' name in precisely the same context Doleman used it -- as an example of a great running back never to get a chance at a Super Bowl -- and the possibility exists that by the time the Vikings move into their new stadium in 2016, Peterson either will be a much smaller part of the Vikings offense or a member of another team.

"The sad part about it is we wasted the opportunity with one of the league's premier running backs," Doleman said. "OK, let's just not even say we need to have a Peyton Manning at the quarterback position. Give me a good guy because I don't believe we need a $100 million quarterback to make this team win. I would make sure the guy I get can make all the throws, makes good football decisions, not someone who has a great IQ and can't make football decisions out there on the field. I'm looking for a football player at the quarterback position."

I wouldn't go as far as Doleman did in speaking of the Vikings' opportunity with Peterson in the past tense, but the running back probably doesn't have time for another long -- or failed -- quarterback development. He has no guaranteed money remaining on a contract scheduled to pay him eight-figure base salaries through 2017, meaning the day when the Vikings have the restructure-or-release conversation with Peterson might not be that far off.

While Peterson has said he wants to stay in Minnesota, he is watching the Vikings' moves closely and has occasionally mused about playing elsewhere if the team doesn't make progress toward a championship. The fear of Peterson following Sanders' playoff path is a valid concern, and of the many ramifications of Spielman's next quarterback move, there might be none more compelling than its ability to prevent the Sanders scenario from becoming reality for the greatest running back in Vikings history.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In the spring of 2011, after their attempt to coax one more playoff run out of an aging team led to a 6-10 season, the Minnesota Vikings turned to the draft with a new emphasis on building a roster that could last. General manager Rick Spielman -- then the team's vice president of player personnel -- made 10 picks in the 2011 draft, after taking only 26 players in his first four drafts with the team, and the Vikings weaned themselves from the emphasis they'd placed on free agency before then.

They've drafted 29 players in the past three years, and it hasn't taken long for their roster to have a significantly different look. As ESPN's Kevin Seifert pointed out earlier today, the Vikings have 27 of their draft picks on their roster, which is tied for the eighth-most in the NFL. What's more, their recent drafts have been some of the league's best.

In our review of the Vikings' seven drafts under Spielman last month, we used Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value metric to get a rough idea of how the Vikings have done compared to the rest of the league. Their total AV of 463 from 2007-13 is the 10th-best mark in the league (Not surprisingly, the teams with better scores are the ones who have been even more successful at filling their roster through the draft; the Packers, Falcons, 49ers, Ravens and Bengals have the most homegrown players, and they rank 2nd, 1st, 4th, 11th and 9th in draft AV.). And in the past three drafts, the Vikings have the 10th-best draft AV; the Bears, Packers and Lions are 25th, 26th and 32nd, respectively.

The biggest black mark on Spielman's build-from-within strategy, of course, is the quarterback position; his pick of Christian Ponder in 2011 hasn't panned out, and that's probably cost him a chance to reap credit for some solid drafts in recent years. But if the Vikings are able to solve the quarterback situation and add some talent to their defense this year, they might validate Spielman's belief that they're not far away from a quick turnaround. It's tough to find any serious holes on offense other than quarterback, and while the Vikings need to get better at linebacker, either through internal development or more help in the draft, they've gotten help on the defensive line and at cornerback through free agency.

"I think the offense is, truthfully, a quarterback away from being good," ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson said on Monday. "I think it all sets up very well for them, compared to the other quarterback-needy teams in the league."

The Vikings, though, still can be classified as a quarterback-needy team, and until they fix the position, Spielman's draft record will have an asterisk. There is no tougher position to fill from the outside, and any success the Vikings can claim from building through the draft won't be complete until they find the right QB.
MINNEAPOLIS -- There are just 16 days to go until the 2014 NFL draft, meaning we're firmly in the time of year when general managers are more likely to top off their draft preparations with a dollop of misdirection than a scintilla of truth.

And yet, when Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman described the process of evaluating this year's quarterback class as "torturous" in an interview published Monday, his comments were structured around a consistent theme he's been hitting since the Vikings began draft preparations in earnest three months ago.

"Every one of these quarterbacks ... nothing is a sure thing," Spielman said in a discussion with MMQB.com on Monday. "There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player -- every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feeling, why don’t you just wait ’til later in the draft and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now?"

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWould the Vikings have stayed with Christian Ponder as long as they did if he had been drafted in the second or third round?
Since January, Spielman has been talking about how far and wide the Vikings would search for a quarterback, how careful they would be not to get boxed into drafting one in the first round. He has described this class as being without a sure thing since February and has talked since March about how re-signing Matt Cassel gave the Vikings the freedom to wait on a quarterback.

There are a couple of viable explanations for the consistency. One possibility is that Spielman has been crafting the narrative that the Vikings won't force a quarterback pick at No. 8 for months, possibly to ward off teams that might be interested in leapfrogging the Vikings for a QB or to create a market for trading down. The other scenario is that Spielman is staring at the situation, knowing how damaging the fallout could be for him if he misses on another highly drafted passer, and is mulling the possibility that a first-round quarterback might just be too big of a gamble in this draft.

Plenty of people around the league believe the Vikings won't take a quarterback at No. 8, choosing instead to draft a defensive player or trade back a few spots to accumulate more picks before picking a defender. With the caveat that what you hear from people around the league has to be triple-filtered this time of year, I'm inclined to think it's likely the Vikings wait, for a couple reasons. First, the Vikings still have enough defensive needs that they would be helped sooner by a linebacker or defensive back than they would by drafting a quarterback who needs time to develop. There's some legitimacy to Spielman's statements that the Vikings aren't that far away from being back in the playoffs. That's based on how many close games they might have won with only slightly more efficient quarterbacking and a less porous defense last season. If you believe a full season of Cassel and the prospect of defensive improvement is enough for a quick pivot while Adrian Peterson is still in his 20s, wouldn't it be tempting to consider that route?

The second, and probably more important reason for the Vikings to wait on a quarterback, is this: They've seen just how much time and how many resources can be squandered on a quarterback who doesn't pan out. Peterson was 26 when Christian Ponder made his first start for the Vikings. Percy Harvin was a 23-year-old turning into a breakout star, and Jared Allen was in the midst of a 22-sack season at age 29. The Vikings were in the middle of a rebuilding project under Spielman and Leslie Frazier, but those don't have to take that long in the modern NFL when there are cornerstone players in place.

Heading into 2014, though, Harvin, Allen and Frazier are gone, Ponder has lost the benefit of the doubt, and the Vikings are still trying to figure out their long-term answer at quarterback. Spielman outlived Frazier in Minnesota and got a chance to hire his own coach in Mike Zimmer, but he probably can't survive another big swing and miss at quarterback. If the Vikings were to hitch their fortunes to the wrong guy at No. 8, Zimmer could eventually be dragged down with the GM.

It's interesting to think about what might have happened in 2011 if the Vikings had taken Ponder in the second or third round and if they would have felt less compelled to stand by him. Would they have made a play for Robert Griffin III the next year or taken Russell Wilson instead of Josh Robinson in the third round after Frazier and his staff coached Wilson at the Senior Bowl?

The Vikings might have decided to give Ponder time anyway, but it's difficult to argue any team faces the same pressure to stick by a second-day draft pick as it does with the 12th overall selection. It has to be in the back of Spielman's mind that taking a quarterback later in the draft wouldn't carry the same kind of inherent commitment as drafting one in the top 10, in addition to the fact that passing on QB at No. 8 would give him the opportunity to pick from a dynamic group of defensive players. Considering the quarterbacks that could be in next year's class -- such as Florida State's Jameis Winston, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota -- the Vikings had better know how tethered they want to be to a quarterback they would take this year.

The Vikings are in eight days of pre-draft meetings that conclude next Tuesday, when players return to the team facility for a three-day voluntary minicamp. That event will give Zimmer his first real chance to work with players and make some determinations about what he has in Cassel and Ponder. From there, the Vikings can have their final discussions about how they want to approach the quarterback position. But it seems possible, as it has for months, that they are seriously weighing the benefits of waiting if they're not completely enamored with a QB in the first round.

"How many franchise quarterbacks actually come out?" Spielman said earlier this offseason. "Last couple years, there have been a couple guys that have been taken in the second and third rounds that have been successful. I think there’s some depth in this quarterback class. You’re definitely not going to be forced to take a quarterback at 8 unless you’re totally sold on that quarterback. I can guarantee you that it’s not going to be a forced issue.”

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