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The Minnesota Vikings And Rick Spielman’s Gambling Ways

I was originally going to title this ‘The Vikings Went To Vegas', but then I immediately realized that the article's headline would show up on some sites without the benefit of immediate explanation, and everyone out there would assume a ‘Love Boat' revamp had occurred, Hangover-style.

No, what this article is going to look at is two things. First, the nature of ‘injury prone' players, and second, Rick Spielman and co.'s decision to roll the dice on a few in both FA and the draft.

Before we even begin, be sure if you haven't yet to check out Arif's insanely awesome ‘Greg Child's Injury' article, which gives the best breakdown of just what happened to him, and what's likely going to go down in the future. Great read.

OK, let's move along. LEAP OF FAITH!!!

Now then, as promised, let's review a few things about so-called ‘injury prone' players. It's a term that gets thrown around a lot in the NFL, but it can mean one of three things.

First, injury prone players can be like Adrian Peterson pre-draft. This means "OMG they haz been hurt more than once, they are made of glass we're all gonna dieeeee!" It also means "I do not believe in coincidences in any way, shape, or form." Basically, these kind of injury prone players really aren't; they just had a little bit of bad luck at one part of their career. While AP has had a couple of ankle sprains and of course the recent knee stuff, I think we can all agree that at the end of the day, his ‘injury prone' tag was quite the mistake. Considering both his position and his manner of playing the game, quite frankly it's amazing he hasn't been more injured in his career. Running backs, especially hard-nosed "hit ‘em first" style running backs like AP, are going to injure their ankles and knees from time to time. It's science. And by all accounts, AP is ahead of the curve in terms of his knee (remember, it was MORE than just an ACL tear). Players like AP who are labeled ‘injury prone' because of two injuries can often beat that rap and prove it wrong. But not always.

The second injury prone players are the guys with a particular, nagging injury that's just going to bug them and re-injure them throughout their career. It's usually one particular injury that, for a variety of reasons (nature of the injury, poor rehab, rushed out too soon) will just never go away. Guys that fit this label would be, for example, Cedric Griffin- rushing him out too soon after his initial ACL tear caused his second ACL to snap. (Now, that's my opinion and let me stress it- but it is well known that the healthy knee can become stressed and even weakened at times due to the increased workload after the initial knee injury.) Concussions are also an excellent example of creating this kind of player; as research increasingly shows, concussions can often build up and create a susceptibility to more.

The third injury prone player is the one I feel for. Call it bad luck, genetics, a body that may be athletic but still not one that receives high levels of stress well. I feel for these guys because I'm pretty much one of them. My body can take a beating... but only for so long. The laundry list of injuries I've built up, at a relatively young age (including the damn one that cost me covering training camp...), shows that my body has a limit for receiving damage before ‘breaking' that is lower than some others. There are players that may be fast, athletic, excellent runners, receivers, etc., but just not able to resist the high levels of impact and stress that an NFL career involves. These are the players that seem to be so often injured... but not in the same place. An example might be, for all appearances, Sidney Rice- first his hip, then his shoulders. It's becoming a question mark whether he can last an entire NFL season. There are again a litany of reasons that players can become like this- again from my own experience, I can say that my issue is, for lack of a better word, laziness- I hate taking care of myself in terms of injuries. I'll try and work through it and just deal with the pain, rather than properly treating it and taking care of it. Lo and behold, next thing you know that nagging pain makes a snapping noise and I'm on the mat. Again, genetics and a variety of other factors can play in as well, and as a final word, it is sometimes worth noting that the style of play can contribute to this: some guys are just reckless, and in the NFL being reckless doesn't always end well.

Now then, having defined what I would call the three categories of "injury prone NFL players"- the ‘false label because of some bad luck', the ‘single recurring injury', and then ‘just plain prone to getting hurt'- let's look at Rick Spielman's visit to the blackjack table this offseason. We took, through FA and the draft, three players that were to varying regards ‘injury prone': John Carlson, Geoff Schwartz, and Greg Childs. As of this writing all three are injured, two have undergone surgery, and one is on IR for at least all of 2012. Why the heck did we sign them? No team really wants an injury prone player on their team. Some teams will deal with it to an extent due to either that player's talent or importance to the team (or a varying combination of both). I.e., the Colts put up with Bob Sanders for a bit before finally releasing him, and the Eagles are sticking with Michael Vick right now despite concerns regarding his ability to last an entire NFL season. Still, overall, it's not generally something you feel like dealing with.

In short, the answer is obvious: that first label. Certainly, Adrian Peterson's erroneous designation as ‘injury prone' is pretty much the only reason he is a Viking. Without that, he would not have fallen to #7 in the draft. And also quite certainly, the Vikings were wise to ignore that label and, essentially, gamble that it wouldn't stick. Because of incidents like this, with somewhere between 5-6 teams smacking themselves on the foreheads because of that episode (the Lions could get away with being OK with the whole thing), teams are often willing to gamble on injury prone players, especially by stipulating certain things in their contracts (injury clauses, etc.). Peyton Manning going to Denver would be a good example of this; the nature of his injury caused many to wonder whether it wouldn't become an issue, but his talent superseded such fears and saw one of the biggest FA wooings of all time.

Rick Spielman decided to take such gambles three times. Two of them can be pretty easily forgiven; on the third, the jury is still out, and we might have to essentially wait until the end of the Vikings' 2012 season for it to return a verdict. In regards to Greg Childs, the one on everyone's minds right now, Tom Pelissero wrote the ultimate piece on that. If you think Childs' injury is cause to break out the pitchforks and storm Spielman's office, read it. If you're too lazy, I'll sum it up here:

  • Greg Childs was a 4th round pick.
  • 4th round picks are typically gambles.
  • Sometimes when you gamble, you lose.

Spielman rolled the dice and came up snake eyes. But even if Childs never returns to the NFL, he didn't put a lot on the table; that's what fourth round picks are for. The second, Geoff Schwartz, was picked up in FA to put pressure on Brandon Fusco for the RG spot, and then likely to back him up should Fusco win the competition. Considering Fusco was ahead of that match-up at the time of Schwartz's injury, and also considering that it's likely Schwartz will still be available for at least part of the 2012 season to perform said back-up duties, the gamble once again still seems forgivable as Spielman again didn't place a whole lot on the table. Schwartz's one year contract wasn't exactly a salary cap-buster, and while some felt that he was here to start at RG, it began to appear in training camp that Fusco was really the favored. And again, while his injury did require surgery and has left him on the sidelines for now, he is expected to return for at least part of the 2012 season.

The one player that Spielman did throw down big on was John Carlson. He was picked up on a five year, $25 million dollar contract, and was intended to play a major role for the Vikings opposite Kyle Rudolph in 2-TE sets. While many have pointed out that he suffered a fair share of injuries, including missing 2011 entirely, some forget that he had an outstanding rookie season as a Seahawk, leading the team in receptions and RY, and followed it up with a solid 2009. Does he still have that in his tank? At 28, he's not exactly a one-year stop gap veteran, but he's also no spring chicken. And now that he too has been sidelined- albeit, not by a surgery knife- and will be out for at least a sizeable portion of the remaining preseason, this gamble is starting to look like it may have bit Spielman in the butt. However, as mentioned above, we still have to let Carlson return and play out 2012 before releasing the hounds; he may come back just fine and have a solid season with us.

So there you have it- the Vikings' (metaphorical) trip to Vegas. One might throw down on the whole gambling thing too with the Jerome Simpson signing; while not a player with the ‘injury prone' label, he does have the ‘character concern' thing going for him. Of course, thus far, it appears he will toss that label in the same trash can that Jared Allen did when he came to town. And if that pans out the way we're all thinking, hoping, and fortunately thus far seeing, Spielman will be hailed a genius.

Every offseason teams roll their dice. No team has ever become successful without a few gambles, and no team has ever gambled without losing. NFL history is filled with ‘injury prone' players slipping in the draft, only to prove everyone wrong. And it's also filled with guys released from one team because of injuries only to shine with another (Drew Brees). And while thus far, Spielman's injury gambles aren't looking so good, the good news is that the biggest loss (considering the amount gambled) of all- Carlson- still may yet return and turn the wager into a win.