The Sins of Rick Spielman, Part 1: Quarterback Desperation

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When I started writing this, I was planning on just doing a single post chronicling what I felt were the most egregious errors of Spielman’s tenure here. It quickly became apparent that trying to put all of it into one post would be excessively long, even by my standards. So I broke it up into more easily digestible chunks which I will post over the course of the next few weeks. Before we get started, I want to make it clear that this is not just a PHYRE RYCK diatribe. In fact, I don’t actually think he should be fired this offseason, for reasons I will return to in a later post. For now, let’s turn our attention to the most severe of Rick’s crimes, his handling of the QB position.

The most important job of any GM is finding a quarterback, as there is no more important factor in whether a team is competitive or not. If you have an elite QB, odds are you’re a contending team. If not, you need basically everything to break your way if you want to be left standing at season’s end.

So how has Rick done at this most critical of tasks? Since I’m writing about it here, you can probably surmise that I’m not approving of his efforts. He has taken three swings at finding a long-term QB, and each has been a failure to some degree. The first attempt was by far the most defensible: Teddy was a quality prospect that had dropped much farther in the draft than many expected. Grabbing him at the end of the first round was a calculated low-risk, high-reward move. Of course, it didn’t work out in the end, but it was a worthy attempt.

The second attempt was a desperation move, and like most desperation moves, it was a terrible choice. Trading a first and fourth round pick for a washed up injury-prone statue a week before the start of the season was inexcusable. The timing and severity of Teddy’s knee injury were such that there was no reasonable scenario in which that season could be saved. Thinking that Sam Bradford could come into a team with a terrible OL and effectively lead the team was extremely short-sighted. I get that Spielman figured the championship was wide open and he didn’t want to squander a year of that. However, the cost of this move was way too high for a payoff that was just too unlikely to come to fruition. This is compounded by the fact that the pick surrendered here would have given the Vikings a shot at Mahomes or Watson in the subsequent draft when the Vikings would have surely been looking for a new franchise QB. Imagine what the last few years would have looked like with one of those two guys on a rookie contract with the defense we once had.

The third attempt was a little more understandable, if still misguided. There were merits behind bringing in Cousins, and the potential was there for this to be a worthwhile move. But there were also several significant red flags that were overlooked. The most glaring issue was that Cousins led the league in fumbles over the previous three seasons, and was joining a team with well-known pass protection issues. I will briefly give Cousins some props for fixing those fumbling issues in the latter half of his contract, but his strip-sack issues assuredly cost them a playoff spot in 2018. And of course, his weaknesses with pocket presence and escaping pressure continue to haunt the team to this day. In the end, the original contract can be forgiven as a misguided attempt to fix a longstanding issue the Vikings have suffered through, even if Rick should have been aware of how infrequently free agent QB signings actually work out.

Cousins’ contract extension, however, was nothing short of pure buffoonery. Once again the franchise found itself making a desperation move at QB, and paying the price for it. This time, however, it wasn’t desperation brought on by a freak injury. It was desperation for relief from cap issues caused by years of salary can-kicking. In other words, it was a mess completely of Rick’s own making. And what did they do to help alleviate this worsening cap situation? They penned an extension that was as team-unfriendly as possible. Spielman gained a year of cap relief in exchange for two years of prohibitively awful cap hits. To make things worse, there is no feasible way for the team to get out from having to pay an obscene salary to their much-maligned QB, short of extending him again and kicking the can even further down the road. Unless the team miraculously finds a way to finally fix their offensive line (we’ll come back to this), this will likely go down as one of the worst contracts in franchise history.

As we near the end of this journey through QB-selecting ineptitude, it’s worth taking a brief backup QB detour. Rick’s failure to develop a viable backup QB directly led to the Sam Bradford debacle, which I would count as the worst move of Spielman’s tenure. It seemed, however, that he had learned his lesson from this when he brought in Case Keenum. Although 2017 wouldn’t have been anywhere near the season it was without that move, Rick seemed to forget all about the importance of the backup position as Cousins’ backup has been a guy who’s never thrown an NFL touchdown. So as it stands, the Vikings have no options if Kirk gets injured, and also no alternatives if his early-season performance begins to crop up again.

There are a few things that stand out when evaluating all of Rick Spielman’s QB selections. The first is that the moves made out of preparedness tend to be the best ones. This isn’t surprising, though it’s never a good sign when your best move is the signing of a backup who only starts for one season. Conversely, the moves made out of desperation or a lack of other options also end up being the most disastrous. Also not surprising. The takeaway from all of this is that perhaps the only thing that could save Rick’s job is to develop a secondary option behind our current starter, so that if Cousins ultimately flames out for the Vikings, there is a promising option available that isn’t a desperation move.

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