At the NFL Combine, teams converge to scout draft eligible players, talk to player agents and work on new deals, and get an overall lay of the land. You start your planning for upcoming free agency and the draft, and then go home and try to implement it. As a GM at the Combine, other teams watch every move and listen to every word, because the NFL is as secretive as the NSA, and trying to find out what opponents are planning is part of the game. You have to carefully guard your secrets while still acting as if you have no problem sharing those secrets in a public forum.
That’s where Vikings GM Rick Spielman comes in. Spielman is a master at saying a lot without really saying anything, because Rick Spielman is the master of a language we like to call Rickspeak. *
Only someone as seasoned as Spielman can turn this form of vocabulary into a near art form, and Spielman is a verbal Michelangelo.**
*It’s not so much a language as it is verbal deception
**To be honest I don’t even know if his artistic ability rises to the level of a paint by numbers thing. I’m just making all of this up as I go along.
He took to the podium yesterday, and spent part of the afternoon trying to tell us the outhouse is the Sistine Chapel. He began with an opening statement:
What Rick said: Just assessing where we’re at, last year, we did have a good season. We ultimately didn’t reach our goal, but you can see the progress that we made from the year before. I do believe that we have a very strong foundation, not only with this roster, but also with this coaching staff. The coaches have always done a great job developing young talent, and I know we have a lot of tough roster decisions to make, with where our cap situation is right now.
As much as we’d like to keep everyone, I know that’s not always going to be the case. I do know, with the strong coaching staff that we have under Coach Zimmer, and even some of the coaching staff changes that he made this year, that we have a lot of young guys in the pipeline, when their opportunities come up, they’re able to step in and we don’t miss a beat.
It’s going to be a very busy combine for us, in general. We’re going to meet with most of our players’ agents down here. We’ve been through our process on evaluating our roster, where we’re at, evaluating the free agent market, evaluating the draft, of where it is before this event. What’s different this year is, the league year doesn’t start for two weeks after we get back. So once we get back, we’ll assess where we’re at after we’ve met with some of the agents down here and their final plan.
What Rick meant: WOO HOO I DIDN’T GET FIRED! I mean seriously, it takes some damn talent to go from Super Bowl short list that missed the playoffs last year to a wildcard win and then bounced by San Francisco this past season. Could anyone else do that? And now we’re gonna go full YOLO and hire all our coaches kids to be assistants. Then I’m going to laugh in the face of the agents when they ask for anything more than 20 bucks because we have more issues with the salary cap than a teenager’s face does with acne, and then get you to believe this is a 12 win team. And by July, many of you will, in fact, believe that.
(On the value of having both Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison)
What Rick said: I think we’re very fortunate to have two running backs like that. I know when Dalvin went down last year and Mattison had to play, we really didn’t lose much on offense. That was a little unique last year, because I know he was a guy that we had targeted in the third round. The work that George Paton, Jamaal Stephenson, all of our scouts, as we assess moving up and down in the draft, I think we moved down three times last year and were able to accumulate a lot of other picks that ended up having some players from those other picks that we accumulated, contributing. But Mattison, we felt very strongly about what he could do in this offense.
What Rick meant: You guys are going to love Mattison as RB1 when Dalvin Cook asks for a big contract that we won’t be able to afford. The analytics crowd will love that move, but the rest of you will hate the move. Or we’ll sign him to a big extension when we all know running back is the most disposable position in the game right now.
(On an extension for Kirk Cousins)
What Rick said: We have a lot of things on the priority list. I know, just assessing where Kirk was last year, and putting him in a system that pretty much emphasizes what he does well, with the play action, and establishing a running game, and his accuracy is second to none, I believe, in this league, when he has time in the pocket — not only short or intermediate, but also when he throws down the field. I think the second year, which I don’t think he’s been in, to go into a system for two years in a row, we just see him progressing and improving more. From a business side, I won’t talk about anything on contract negotiations or what we’re doing, but I do know we were very excited. And I think the other thing Kirk answered last year, too, was, ‘Can he win the big game?’ And when you see him go down there and lead us in Dallas. And then, even when we didn’t play very well for the first half in Denver, for him to bring us back to win that game, and to go down there and have a big signature win against New Orleans in the playoffs in overtime. So you’re seeing a lot of things, and I give a lot of credit to Coach Zimmer and Gary Kubiak, putting him in situations to have success. I think it’s even going to go farther next year being in the same system.
What Rick meant: Kirk’s a great QB when everything goes perfect, and I am talking myself into believing he is a QB that can win us a big game. His extension is going to be massive.
(On the lack of left-handed quarterbacks in the NFL in recent years.)
What Rick Said: Boy — I don’t know if I have that prepared in my notes at all. Yeah, I don’t know — maybe there’s more right-handed babies. I don’t know, like in baseball, when you’re a little kid, do they put the ball in your left hand? That one, I can honestly say, I usually have an answer or can dance around a lot of things. That one I have no answer to — but I’ll get our analytics department on that and get back to you.
What Rick meant:
/Rick with blank stare
/Rick reads a text off of phone
‘Well, the reason there aren’t more left handed throwers is because quarterbacks in the league throw with their right arm. That makes them right handed. If they threw with their left arm, they’d be left handed. Back to you, Tess.’
/Spielman looks up
Thanks for that, Booger. Appreciate the help.
(On whether Tua Tagovailoa being left-handed changes the Vikings’ evaluation of him)
What Rick said: No. All we’re going to do is evaluate if he’s accurate, can he function in the offense, can he make plays? There’s a pretty good left-handed quarterback in this draft.
What Rick meant: I am looking for any reason to not draft a QB because I am going to give Kirk a $50 mil/yr deal and ride the lightning with Kirk all the way to the unemployment line, if necessary.
(On Irv Smith)
What Rick said: We drafted Irv, and we’re very fortunate, just like the two receivers we have, to have two tight ends like that, two different tight ends, and what Kyle Rudolph brings to us in the red zone and some of the things he does and how much he’s improved as a blocker. I think you’re going to continue to see Irv step up, because he can create mismatches. If you look at our offense, and how many times we were in three-wide, compared to two tight ends. The reason we were in two tights ends a lot more was because of the physical skill set and the playmaker that Irv showed last year. He’s just going to continue to develop even more.
What Rick meant: Irv will be moving to WR3. We can’t afford anyone else.
(On the success of players from Iowa)
What Rick said: Iowa’s phenomenal. I think that, especially the offensive linemen that come out of there, they’re very well-coached, they’re disciplined football players, they’re very high-character guys, and the other thing is, they love to play the game. I know, watching those kids come in at Iowa, and some of those guys get passed up that are maybe not five-star recruits, to see what that program does and how they develop talent, they can take a three-star guy and make him into a first-, second-round pick, just by the coaching they’re getting, and also, the high-character kids they bring into that program.
What Rick meant: They love it when we punt on fourth and 2 from the opponent 37.
(On whether Iowa’s style of play translates to the NFL.)
What Rick said: I think you look at all that, too, because they do run a pro style of offense. I think that has a little bit, but you still have to have the physical traits to play at that level.
What Rick meant: The Kirk Ferentz ‘run, run, pass, punt’ offensive philosophy translates to the NFL so well I’m stunned that Ferentz himself isn’t an NFL head coach.
(Rumors about trading Stefon Diggs)
What Rick said: Stefon, last year, had probably his most productive year, and he’s a young receiver we just extended [before the 2018 season]. He’s not only a major part of our offense and a major part of our organization winning games, but he also does a lot of things for this organization off the field. There’s no reason — the rumors or whatever you’re talking about — to anticipate that Stefon Diggs is not going to be a Minnesota Viking. When you have some of the offensive talent that we have, with him and Thielen together, with Rudy and Irv Smith, with Dalvin Cook and Mattison, we have a pretty good support cast around our quarterback.
What Rick meant: LOL shut up. He’s not going anywhere.
What Rick said: I think it’s still a work in progress. I think when we went to the outside zone guys that have to have specific physical traits we’re looking for, I think that’ll be an area we continue to try to improve. But we made tremendous strides from last year. I give a lot of credit to Gary Kubiak and I give a lot of credit to Rick Dennison and Andrew Janocko for what they did to develop those guys. I think we have two really good, young cornerstone-type players in Brian O’Neill and Garrett Bradbury. I think we’re going to continue to grow and develop that. To me, all the passing and everything that’s done in this league, you want to win up front in the trenches – both offensive and defensive sides.
What Rick meant: This offensive line rebuild is taking longer than road construction on I-35, and just like the government, we spent way too much money for something that is STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION SEVEN YEARS AFTER I WAS NAMED GM. AND IT WILL REMAIN UNDER CONSTRUCTION AS LONG AS I AM HERE!
(Anthony Harris, is he a priority for you guys?)
What Rick said: Everybody is a priority for us this offseason. Anthony is a perfect example of, again giving credit to the coaches, he was a corner at Virginia and he had an [injured] shoulder when he came out and didn’t get drafted. We look at all these young guys that maybe might not get on the field right away, but how I assess how they develop is how well they do on special teams. Anthony developed into one of our special teams players and I see the same thing this year with Kris Boyd happening. Once Anthony got that opportunity to start, and even when he started last year at times, he’s proven that he’s phenomenal and one of the best safeties in the league right now.
What Rick meant: LOL nope. Kris Boyd will replace Anthony Harris as a starting safety because we can’t afford Ant. So I am now hyping Boyd as the next Anthony Harris.
(Late-round success, what are you looking for?)
What Rick said: We are all on the same page in the physical traits we’re looking for. Not only our scouts, but our coaches, we take that Saturday and college free agency as series as we do the first couple picks in the [draft]. I think also what has helped us identify these guys more is Scott Kuhn, our director of analytics, we’ve implemented some analytics as another tool. It’s not a decision-maker for us, but they can really vet out guys that legitimately have a chance and guys that don’t. So, when you have 700 guys on your backboard, they may pull out 20-30 guys that have a legitimate chance to make a roster and then we hone in on those guys to see if they’re a fit for the Minnesota Vikings.
What Rick meant: This year? About four starters on defense, minimum.
(You discussed Alexander Mattison, RB depth, so do you envision paying Dalvin Cook when the time comes?)
What Rick said: I’d put Dalvin in the same class as I have all our other young guys, whether it’s Danielle Hunter, we’ve always tried to keep our core, young talent that we draft and develop. Kennedy Polamalu has done a phenomenal job at that position. We’ll look at that. Usually we do not look at extensions until after we get through the draft. Right now, we have so much ahead of us and a lot of decisions to make before free agency begins and the new league year begins, and then we look at the draft once we settle down and everything. But I consider Dalvin as one of those core group of players that we definitely want to try to keep.
What Rick meant: Well, I know Dalvin and his agent envision it, but the analytics crowd will shat their pantaloons if we give him a big contract extension. So I’ll probably do it just to see that reaction.