Rick Spielman was hired by the Vikings in May of 2006 as the “Vice President of Player Personnel” where he directed scouting, free agency and draft preparations for the club. As the new General Manager, he’ll being doing essentially the same types of things, but will also “be in charge of all football matters, and will be able to make the final decisions as [the Vikings] move forward.” His responsibility is now to make “sure they figure out what needs to be done to make the team better for 2012.”
Speilman comes from a football family, with a Dad that was a coach, a brother that played in the NFL and is a sports announcer, and Rick himself played football in college as a linebacker at Southern Illinois. He’s known football since he was 2 years old and has it in his blood. Prior to being hired by the Vikings, he began his NFL career as a scout with Detroit from 1990 to 1996 where he scouted college players as well as NFL players. He then moved on and became Director of Pro Personnel for the Bears from 1997-99 before joining the Dolphins in 2000 as Vice President of Player Personnel. He was promoted in 2002 to Senior Vice President-Football Operations/Player Personnel and eventually General Manager in 2004. Spielman was with ESPN as an NFL analyst in 2005 before joining the Vikings. For more details on his scouting impact with these teams, see his bio page on the Vikings.com website.
In a recent interview with Mike Wobschall from Vikings.com, Spielman talked about the state of the roster: “I think we have a very good nucleus of young players. I know we have to get better in a lot of areas, and our objective this offseason, is to get players in here, not only for the 2012 season to get better, but it’s also going to be my job to make sure that I’m looking out for the long term goals of this organization.” When asked about the upcoming draft this offseason he said, “I know we’re picking 3rd overall [in the draft], so we’re going to do our due diligence to pick the best overall player. We’re at an advantage this year where we’re going to get a lot of good football players, because we’re going to be picking up so high in all the rounds.”
Spielman discussed what he’ll be doing at the office in the near future with regards to improving the team, now that he is the new GM. Next week they will be writing up reports on the players and evaluating the current roster. Then they will begin the process of evaluating the unrestricted free agent market and finally preparing for the draft. “Hopefully we’ll be able to fill those needs [that we identify] going forward. This is my favorite time of year, because it’s a chance to make the roster better and do our due diligence...to have success.”
When asked what is the “Rick Spielman” stamp for a roster of players, he answered, “As I work with Leslie Frazier on the type of player we want here, I gotta make sure that I’m identifying a schematic fit on the characteristics of each position. [We will work on] getting quality people and quality football players that are going to help us win ball games on Sundays.”
In short, it sounds like Rick Spielman is going to be doing a similar job as he has done with the Vikings for the past 5 years, except that now he’ll be the main guy making the decisions instead of consulting with the “Triangle of Authority.” I think it’s a natural fit for him to move into the role of GM. As more evidence as to why he’s a good fit, first, look at the final roster of the 2006 season (Speilman was hired after the 2006 draft). Our depth chart was LAME. This was also Brad Childress’ first year as head coach and we went 6-10 that year. We had a good offensive line and decent running backs, but sub-par QBs and terrible WR. Tarvaris Jackson was drafted by Childress to be our QOTF (before Spielman was on board), but didn’t see much playing time his rookie year.
QB: Brad Johnson, Brooks Bollinger, Tarvaris Jackson
RB: Chester Taylor, Mewelde Moore, Ciatrick Fason
FB: Nafahu Tahi, Jeff Dugan
WR: Travis Taylor, Billy McMullen, Troy Williamson, Bethel Johnson, Nance Martin
TE: Jimmy Kleinsasser, Jermaine Wiggins
LT: Bryant McKinnie, Ryan Cook
LG: Steve Hutchinson, Jason Whittle
C: Matt Birk, Ryan Cook
RG: Anthony Herrera, Artis Hicks
RT: Marcus Johnson, Ryan Cook
Our defense wasn’t much better. We were weak at DE and CB, but strong at LB and DT. Outside of Winfield and Sharper, our secondary wasn’t great. We had a lot of holes on defense that year.
DE: Kenechi Udeze, Jayme Mitchell
DT: Kevin Williams
DT: Pat Williams, Ross Kolodjiez
DE: Darrion Scott, Ray Edwards
OLB: EJ Henderson, Heath Farwell
MLB: Napolean Harris, Dontarrius Thomas
OLB: Ben Leber, Rod Davis
CB: Antoine Winfield, Mike Hawkins
CB: Charles Gordon, Will Hunter
S: Dwight Smith, Ronyell Whitaker
FS: Darren Sharper, Greg Blue
Then, if you look back at the drafts that Spielman has had an influence on, you can see that he clearly has an eye for talent. Look at the following notable guys that have been drafted on his watch:
2007: Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Brian Robison
2008: Letroy Guion, John Sullivan
2009: Percy Harvin, Asher Allen, Jasper Brinkley
2010: Chris Cook, Toby Gerhardt, Everson Griffen, Joe Webb
2011: Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Christian Ballard, Mistral Raymond
And now look at the following notable free agent signings or players acquired in trades:
2007: Visanthe Shiancoe
2008: Jared Allen, Madieu Williams
2009: Brett Favre
2010: Ryan D’Imperio, Greg Camarillo, Randy Moss (Childress Fired, Frazier takes over)
2011: Donovan McNabb, Charlie Johnson
Looking at the drafts and free agents in the last 5 years, Spielman has clearly addressed areas of need and has brought in talented players. One could argue that the offensive line has not been addressed, but 5 years ago it was a point of strength. It is too bad that it has fallen into such disarray, but when you consider that some of that blame is due to “non-football injury list” (*cough* McKinnnie *cough*) and aging vets in Hutchinson and Herrera, I don’t fault Spielman too much. Sure they could have (and should have) been drafting for depth and the future along the O-Line, but perhaps guys like DeMarcus Love, Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco are the future. They addressed the WR situation with guys like Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin and went after guys like Houshmandzadeh pretty aggressively since 2006, but unfortunately our QB position has been so tragic that we can’t seem to get guys to stick around. Speaking of the QB position, if there IS one area that I feel Spielman has failed repeatedly, this is it. Since he was hired we’ve had the following starting QBs: Brad Johnson, Kelly Holcomb, Gus Ferrerote, Tarvaris Jackson, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, and now Christian Ponder. He’s had a history of going with aging vets past their prime, but it’s not just Spielman…that has been the Vikings M.O. since long before Spielman came on board. While Childress missed with T-Jack (and that partly explains the merry-go-round at the QB position), hopefully Spielman got it right with Christian Ponder.
All of this is to say that IMO, Rick Spielman has shown that he has an eye for talent and I think he was the right choice for general manager. At best, he provides continuity for the team, is now going to be held accountable for any decisions, and will hopefully make some savvy moves in the off-season to improve the roster. At worst, he’ll leave the roster in shambles and will be fired in the near future. And in that scenario, surely we would hire a new and improved GM. Either way, in the long run, the hiring of Rick Spielman as GM can do nothing but good things for the organization. He’ll either succeed, or he’ll fail, in which case we’ll hire a better GM now that the structure in the front office is in place.
***EDIT*** (below added, as of Jan. 5th, 2012)
To be fair, I have decided to include more of the “misses” during Spielman’s time with the team so far to add to the list above. Having said that, it needs to be mentioned that no one is going to be 100% successful in drafting and in free agency. Every team, general manager, scout, what-have-you is going miss on some of their picks; it's the nature of the business. To my mind, being successful in roster development is to hit more than you miss, especially with the early rounds of the draft and with large free agent contracts. It’s inevitable that there will be a few duds, and it’s with that in mind that I present what I believe, are Spielman’s most note-worthy misses. Included on the list are the misses that were drafted in the first 4 rounds, trades involving starters or 4th round draft picks or higher, or free agents with big contracts who were expected to be starters. All had 1 year or less of success and ultimately didn’t pan out for the team.
2007: Marcus McCauley, Kelly Holcomb
2008: Tyrell Johnson, Bernard Berrian
2009: Sage Rosenfels
2010: Greg Camarillo
2011: Maybe Remi Ayodele and Charlie Johnson? (neither signed a particularly big contract though)
I’d argue that at least some of these misses fall at the feet of the head coaches he has worked with (namely Randy Moss, Brett Favre 2010, and Donovan McNabb). The jury is still out on the 2010 and 2011 drafts, but so far things look pretty good for the higher round picks. The fact is, we’ve had several diamonds in the rough out of those later rounds, which speaks more to his skills than not, since most of the late round picks for every team are project/developmental picks (don't bother pointing out the Tom Brady exceptions please). So, even despite these misses, I think Spielman has shown he has what it takes. This list is pretty small compared to the list of impact guys he's drafted and brought in via trades and free agency. I continue to support this move to promote Spielman.