Just when you thought that Rick Spielman couldn't get any less popular for taking Anthony Barr with the #9 pick and botching a rumored trade for picking Johnny Manziel, he goes and does something like this...
...AND TOTALLY REDEEMS HIMSELF!
It what has become a rather enjoyable tradition in Minnesota, the Vikings GM once again wheeled and dealed his way back into the late first round to pick up a big-name player. In 2012 the Vikings picked up Harrison Smith. In 2013 it was Cordarrelle Patterson. This year it was Teddy Bridgewater. If the 2014 selection works out as well as the last two late first rounders have so far, the Vikings just might have their quarterback of the future.
When you see him in person, it's easy to tell how much Rick Spielman loves draft day. He strolled to the podium well after 11:00 PM with a big grin, joking with the media at the Winter Park fieldhouse by saying "you guys didn't go home, did you?"
Spielman had watched Bridgewater live three times and two games really stuck out with him over his college career. "The game at Rutgers two years ago really stood out for me when he came in with a broken ankle and banged up wrist and brought them back to win that game. And then I got a chance to see him play live against Central Florida this year. Every time I had exposure to him and you watch the tape with Coach Turner, he just seems to have that knack when he's in pressure situations in a game to come through it."
The Vikings went through a thorough analytic study of the quarterbacks in the draft and Spielman said the one thing that really stood out for them was how well Bridgewater performed against the blitz. Spielman acknowledged that people were very critical of Bridgewater's poor Pro Day but he and the coaching staff were very pleased with the private workout they conducted with him later in Florida. "It was totally different. To see the way he responded to the way Norv and Scott [Turner] were coaching him during that workout was remarkable. He is what we saw on tape." Spielman reemphasized how well Bridgewater performed in his private workout throughout the press conference.
Most people believe the Vikings traded up for the 32nd pick to make sure the Houston Texans didn't take him with the first pick on Friday. While that certainly factored in, Spielman brought up a very good point that it allows the team a 5th-year option by drafting Bridgewater in the first round.
While the team hopes they have their quarterback of the future, the word "future" is definitely the operative word. It doesn't sound like the Vikings will rush Bridgewater into the starting role until he's ready. "There is no pressure for this kid to come in and play," Spielman explained. "We're comfortable with Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder right now...he has plenty of time to sit there and develop." Spielman said the timeline for Bridgewater will be determined by the coaching staff.
Spielman wouldn't get into specifics about the possibility of attempting to trade up to the #22 pick to get Johnny Manziel, but he definitely didn't deny it either. "We're always pretty aggressive calling around to move back into the first. This is the third time I've done this. We were fortunate enough to find a trade partner and get two number ones again this year."
The Vikings don't have a second round pick after the deal with the Seahawks (the Vikings gave up their #40 pick overall and a fourth rounder to move up to 32) but Spielman "suspects there will be more movement" in Day 2 of the 2014 Draft.
After Spielman's press conference wrapped up, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer followed Spielman to address the media for the second time of the night. Zimmer started by commenting how impressive it was to be in the draft room with Spielman, the Wilfs, Scott Studwell, and the rest of the Vikings front office. "I was amazed sitting there tonight...it wasn't hectic in there. Those guys are professionals. They do a great job."
"You know the thing I like most about [Teddy Bridgewater]? He wins," Zimmer said. "Everywhere he's ever been he wins."
Then came the big surprise of the press conference--Zimmer explained that the team gave Bridgewater an additional physical because he "had a little thing about his heart". Zimmer said that Bridgewater jokingly explained his heart was too big, but the comment definitely piqued the attention of the media members in the room. Later in the press conference Zimmer played down the additional physical as a "little blip" that "turned out to be nothing".
Like he did with Anthony Barr earlier in the night, Zimmer was quick to praise Teddy Bridgewater's character. "We talk a lot about the type of guys we want to represent the Vikings, to represent the fans here. He's a guy that's gonna be here all the time, he's gonna study, he's gonna work, he's gonna be a great advocate of the community. I think Minnesota Vikings fans are going to be very, very proud of him."
Since Coach Zimmer is a defensive expert, he knows that it's important to be on the same page with Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner and QB Coach Scott Turner when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. "We wouldn't have moved up just to get anybody. This is a guy that they felt really strongly about."
Zimmer has experience with his team starting rookie quarterbacks--the Bengals started Andy Dalton as a rookie while Zimmer was a Defensive Coordinator in Cincinnati. But he pointed out that the situations are different since Dalton was basically the only option at the time while the Vikings have two incumbent quarterbacks on the roster. He restated his philosophy that everyone will compete and he'll put the best players on the field, backing up Spielman's sentiment that Bridgewater won't be thrust into the starting role.
And just like Spielman, Zimmer said that the private workout seemed to make all the difference in selecting Bridgewater. "The guys [the Turners] were drooling when they came back." He half-joked that the gloves must have done the trick by staying true to himself and Bridgewater told him that he felt Minnesota was the right place for him.
Finally it was time to talk to the man of the hour, Mr. Bridgewater himself, via conference call. He started out by politely thanking everyone in the Vikings organization and describing how comfortable he always was with the team. He explained that he spent more time with the Vikings than any other team leading up to the draft. "Prior to the draft I ended up talking with the Vikings about 4 or 5 times. I was able to establish a relationship with Rick Spielman, coaches Norv Turner and Scott Turner. Even when I came down to work out for the Vikings I felt very comfortable on the board and on the field. I think that's what it was."
Bridgewater fielded a handful of questions about his gloves (which obviously have some sort of magical powers at this point) and explained that he'll be sure to stick with them going forward. He's incredibly excited about the running backs ("the best running back in the National Football League"), wide receivers, and offensive line the Vikings already have in place and feels that he could fit well with the Norv Turner offense.
The slide from potential top pick to the bottom of the first round didn't seem to bother Bridgewater that much. He explained that "nobody said that I have to be the top quarterback" and "everything happens for a reason". Bridgewater explained that he's ready to compete for the starting job but ultimately up to the coaches to decide when he's ready.
The heart issue was brought up to Bridgewater, which he also downplayed. He claimed that a minor issue with his heart rate surprised him but when the team brought him back for a second physical he was cleared after going through an EKG. It sounds like Bridgewater is joining the team with a completely clean bill of health.
That officially ends our first day of draft coverage from Winter Park. What a wild first round, which seems to have become the status quo in these parts. Stay tuned for tons more from Winter Park on Friday staring around 4:00 PM. If you aren't following myself or Arif on Twitter yet, you can do so here and here to keep abreast of all the latest Vikings news from Day 2 of the NFL Draft.