Back in January of 2012, the Minnesota Vikings chucked the ill-fated 'Triangle of Authority' and named Rick Spielman the full time general manager. Moving to a more traditionally structured front office was a move the Vikings needed to make, but there was a fair level of dissent that Spielman calling the front office shots was the right move at the time.
Although Spielman had done a decent job, there had been several moves that hadn't panned out, and the criticism was warranted. For example, there was the Vikings 2010 draft class, where Minnesota traded out of the first round and their first pick ended up being Chris Cook...and other than Everson Griffen, that class as a whole was a disaster.
Or the 2011 draft, where the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder with the 12th pick overall. That move proved to be...unwise.
And, uh....Josh Freeman. Woof. And after the 2013 season, rumors were floating that the Vikings might can Spielman AND head coach Leslie Frazier. But Spielman was spared the unemployment line, and really kicked it into high gear, which we'll talk about in a minute.
When he was named full time GM, I thought he deserved a shot at the gig, because the Vikings had, at least I thought, made more good moves than bad, and Spielman never had full autonomy over the roster under the TOA. His first test was in 2012, basically, and he did well in the draft. He dropped back one spot, fleeced Cleveland for a 4th and 5th, and drafted the consensus best tackle in the draft in Matt Kalil. He then traded back into the first round and nabbed Harrison Smith, who has only become the best safety in the NFL.
In 2013, Spielman made a couple of more bold moves. In March, he was able to trade disgruntled WR Percy Harvin to Seattle for a first and third round pick. During the draft, he made a trade with New England to get back into the bottom of the first round, netting Minnesota with three first round picks.
At the end of the season, Spielman fired head coach Leslie Frazier and most of his staff. The biggest hire in his tenure was one he couldn't miss on, and he didn't when he dubbed Mike Zimmer to become the team's ninth head coach.
Yeah, that's worked out.
In 2014, after having moved on from Ponder, Spielman made a trade with Seattle at the end of the first round, and nabbed Teddy Bridgewater, securing what was thought to be a franchise quarterback for a franchise that so desperately needed one.
But when Bridgewater went down, Spielman made arguably the biggest move of his tenure as GM. With a team on the rise, and a Super Bowl window opening, Spielman and the Vikings felt they couldn't put their run on hold for a year, and traded for Eagles QB Sam Bradford, at the cost of a first and conditional fourth round pick.
As a result, the Vikings find themselves at 4-0, alone atop the NFC North.
Through it all, Spielman and salary cap guru Rob Brzezinski have navigated the cap expertly, signing and re-signing core players they want to build a roster around, and that roster is talented, deep, and ready to contend for the Super Bowl.
Has it been a perfect run? No. But earlier today, a couple of curious moves made by other teams gave me a little more appreciation for the job Spielman has done, and I'd like to contrast it with a couple of curious moves that happened earlier Friday in the NFL.
In Indianapolis, GM Ryan Grigson tried to excuse how bad the Colts defense is by...blaming himself, essentially. Well, he actually blamed Andrew Luck's contract:
Grigson: "When you pay Andrew (Luck) what we did, it’s going to take some time to build on the other side of the ball."— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) October 7, 2016
Ummmm...not even sure where to begin with this. Yeah, the Colts re-signed Luck to a deal worth over $120 million dollars, with a cap number north of $18 million this year...but he's in year one of that re-done deal. Prior to that, he was working under his rookie contract, from 2012-2016, he made a grand total of $22 million, or an average of just over $5 million a season.
So Grigson is doing nothing more than laying bare his own incompetence here. By contrast, in Minnesota, the Vikings were able to build a monster defense in that same time, and navigate a huge Adrian Peterson contract, comparable to Luck's, without busting the salary cap.
Over in Carolina, they surprisingly released starting CB Bene Benwikere less than a week after he was blowtorched by Julio Jones.
Ron Rivera says team wants to go younger at CB, part of "retooling this football team."— Joe Person (@josephperson) October 7, 2016
Bene was drafted two years ago. https://t.co/eMzDVUOFL7— Cat Scratch Reader (@CatScratchReadr) October 7, 2016
This might be a little more unfair than what has happened over in Indy, as the Panthers are the defending NFC Champion, and head coach Ron Rivera has done a masterful job turning around a moribund franchise. Yet, this move seemed like a panicky one, or at least a reactionary one based off of one bad game. Granted, it was a really, really bad game, but still, I don't think it's a move the Vikings make under Spielman and Zimmer.
Quite the contrast, actually. We can point to Trae Waynes (and so far Laquon Treadwell) as players the Vikings have been patient with and allowed to develop. With Waynes, they didn't play him until he was ready, and it's starting to pay off.
Hey, I get that not everyone is going to be a Rick Spielman fan. And I'm not here defending every move, because he's made some legitimately bad ones. But I will tell you that Spielman has made a lot more good moves than bad ones, and along with Mike Zimmer, Rob Brzezinski, scouts, and the rest of the coaching staff, he has been responsible for building a roster that has taken the Vikings from one of the worst franchises in the NFL in 2011 to one of the best through four weeks of 2016.
It could be much worse.