Looking back on 10 years of Rick Spielman

Spielman's best and worst moves
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

(Note: This is a two-part series. The first part focuses on Spielman’s best moves. Part two, an analysis of the worst moves, will be posted tomorrow.)

Earlier this week marked the 10-year anniversary of Rick Spielman joining the Minnesota Vikings. Spielman’s job has evolved over time—he was initially hired as the Vice President of Player Personnel in 2006, replacing the short-tenured Fran Foley in the Vikings’ “Triangle of Authority,” and in 2012 was promoted to General Manager and has acted as the single voice for all football matters since then. Ten years is more than enough time to make your mark on a franchise, so we (okay, technically it was Brett’s idea) thought it would be good to look back on some of Spielman’s best an worst moves at the helm.

Since he didn’t assume full control until 2012, attributing transactions prior to that year directly to Spielman is a cloudy proposition; indeed, it was exceedingly difficult to pin down who exactly in that infamous triangle was calling the shots from 2006-2012. But we can rely on educated guesses to navigate those years, and the assumption is that most football personnel moves have had Spielman’s fingerprints on them since he arrived in town. If conventional wisdom indicates a particular decision was made outside of his control, I’ll note that and categorize accordingly.

Our first installment of this two-part series looks back at Rick Spielman’s best moves.

Best Moves

5. Trading Percy Harvin to the Seahawks

Before doing the research for this list, I had forgotten how well the Vikings came out of this deal. After four mostly productive seasons in Minnesota, Harvin’s spat with head coach Leslie Frazier (and lots of other people) went public, and Spielman moved him to Seattle for a first-, third-, and seventh-round pick. The fact that he was able to get that kind of return when it was well-known around the league that the Vikings wanted desperately to trade Harvin is an example of something masterful. Harvin was a talented player, yes, but Rick Spielman had little leverage and was still able to get a haul.

Aside from returning from injury in the Super Bowl and making a handful of dynamic plays to help the Seahwaks win, Harvin provided his new team very little, and soon they shipped him to the Jets, where he also unachieved. He spent 2015 with the Bills, where he caught 19 passes before announcing his retirement in April.

With the picks acquired in the deal, the Vikings selected Xavier Rhodes, Jerick McKinnon, and offensive lineman Travis Bond. As a wise man once said, two out of three ain’t bad.

4. Trading for Jared Allen

This one is easier to remember, as Spielman orchestrated a blockbuster deal for what would end up being one of the best pass-rushers in team history. Spielman sent four draft picks to the Chiefs, including a first-, sixth-, and two third-rounders for Allen and a sixth-round pick.

In six seasons in purple, Jared Allen recorded 83.5 sacks, third most in team history. In 2011 he recorded the second highest single-season sack total in NFL history with 22. Allen was a dominant force his entire Vikings career, is a likely Hall of Famer, and his play fully justified the draft picks Spielman gave up to acquire him.

3. Drafting Teddy Bridewater

I put this one at number three because the book is far from written on Bridgewater after only two seasons in the league, but he has shown enough to indicate he may be the long-term answer at quarterback for a franchise that has been looking for one for decades. I’m not ready to label Bridgewater the savior just yet, and year three will be very telling in terms of his development, but so far, so good.

Drafting Bridgewater was a shrewd move for two reasons:

  1. Spielman moved up to get him. The Vikings, of course, had already used their first round pick on Anthony Barr, but when Bridgewater dropped to the end of the first round, Spielman sent a second- and fourth-round pick to Seattle for the final pick in the first round and grabbed him. It was an aggressive move, and Rick Spielman clearly recognized a.) Matt Cassel wasn’t the answer at quarterback, short- or long-term, b.) Bridgewater’s value at that point in the draft was too great to pass up, and c.) there was an opportunity to stop the turnstile at the position, and that was worth any risk assumed by moving up.
  2. He didn’t draft Manziel. This, to me, is one of the most important factors of the 2014 draft that we’re too quick to discount—not only did Spielman draft Bridgewater, he didn’t draft Johnny Manziel. Many Vikings fans—I’d estimate at least half—wholeheartedly wanted Manziel at that point, and Spielman could’ve easily taken him at number nine and been justified in the minds of many. In the end, Manziel, went number 22 to the Browns, 10 picks before Bridgewater, and while some speculated that Spielman preferred Manziel to Bridgewater, there’s no way to know. But Bridgewater has at the very least been a solid, poised young quarterback in his first two seasons, and Manziel has been an unmitigated disaster who is already without a team and possibly on his way out of the league. Think of the difference in the 2015 season if it had been Manziel to the Vikings rather than Bridgewater. Think of all the talent on the roster that would likely be squandered due to more stopgap measures at quarterback if Manziel were on board.

2. Hiring Mike Zimmer

This one wasn’t Spielman’s decision alone—Zygi Wilf had an interview with Zimmer and ultimately signed off on the hiring, as most owners do—but it happened after he was promoted to GM, and we can assume he played a large role. The Vikings hired Zimmer after six seasons as the Bengals’ defensive coordinator, and it’s hard (even for Vikings fans) to look at the move as anything other than positive. Win improvements each of his first two seasons, a NFC North Championship in 2015, a defense that is poised to leap into the top five in the NFL, and the attitude of a lovable curmudgeon. Mike Zimmer checks all the boxes.

1. Drafting Adrian Peterson

As the running back era drifts toward an inevitable twilight in the NFL, Adrian Peterson may go down as the last true feature back. He is certainly one of the best runners to ever play the position. And he was the first ever draft pick Spielman made—Foley handled the draft in 2006 before being fired, and Spielman selected Peterson at number seven overall in 2007. At the time, the Vikings had Chester Taylor coming of a 1,200-yard season and didn’t have an immediate need at running back, but Spielman found Peterson’s talent too tantalizing to pass up.

In nine seasons with the team (including 2014, in which he missed all but one game due to suspension), Peterson has emphatically proven Spielman right; 11,675 rushing yards, 97 rushing touchdowns, the single-game rushing record, the team’s all-time rushing record, and on and on.

Some fans may grumble about fumbles, or about blocking issues, or about his history of coming off the field on third downs, and these are valid criticisms. But let’s not overthink it. Adrian Peterson is objectively one of the best running backs in NFL history, and was selected with the first ever pick of Rick Spielman’s tenure, at a time when the team didn’t have a need at the position. Any way you slice it, that’s an A+ move, and, in my opinion, the best move Rick Spielman has made in his time with the Vikings.

 

Honorable Mentions: Signing Brett Favre (produced the most memorable season in the past 18 years, but securing Favre was mostly a product of Brad Childress’ pursuit, not Spielman), drafting Harrison Smith (another player for whom Spielman traded up into the end of the first round, and he has become one of the better safeties in the NFL…would probably put this move at number six), the Everson Griffen signing (gave him a five-year, $42.5 million contract after a season in which he had only 5.5 sacks…Griffen has recorded double-digit sacks in each season since), Stefon Diggs (looks great so far, but it’s just too early).

Check back tomorrow for our analysis of Spielman’s worst moves in his 10 years with the Vikings.