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Rick Spielman Isn’t Mortgaging The Future, He’s Betting On It

The Sam Bradford trade details are pretty straight forward. The Vikings acquire the quarterback. The Eagles acquire Minnesota’s first round pick in 2017 and a conditional fourth round pick in 2018. That 2018 pick is upgraded to a third rounder if the Vikings appear in the NFC Championship Game this season, and a second rounder if they make it to the Super Bowl, according to Ben Goessling of ESPN.

In the aftermath of Teddy Bridgewater’s heartbreaking injury, the reactions to the Bradford trade have been varied, but it does seem to be a majority opinion that general manager Rick Spielman mortgaged part of the team’s future less than a week after he told everybody that he wouldn’t.

Here’s the thing: Spielman hasn’t taken out a mortgage, he has placed one gigantic bet.

The first thing you have to understand is that Spielman isn’t new to the world of gambling, particularly at the quarterback position. In fact, this gigantic all-in move with Bradford doesn’t exist in isolation, it is a reaction to Spielman letting a number of side bets ride and then being dealt one really awful hand during practice last week.

Spielman has created a roster that is so deep at so many positions. The evidence of that lies in the cuts that were made yesterday, as the Vikings have risked losing some of their own draft picks and some very talented players on the waiver wire. The defense has a handful of backup players that would start elsewhere, and in general this team is built to withstand devastating injuries.

That does not apply to, and did not apply to, the quarterback position. If reports about the team’s hopes for Taylor Heinicke are true, and the Vikings intended to roster two quarterbacks, that means the organization likely didn’t intend to keep Shaun Hill… let alone actually start him.

Despite public displays of confidence, Minnesota’s actions speak louder than words, and it is clear the Vikings don’t think Hill can take them where they want to go.

THE ODDS

The odds of Teddy Bridgewater suffering the injury that he did are incredibly low. The odds of him missing time, however, are not that low. A wonderful series produced by Football Outsiders last season illustrates just how likely it was that the Vikings were going to have to depend on their backup situation during their race to the Super Bowl.

Here are some odds to consider from that series:

  • Over 50% of NFL quarterbacks end up on the injury report in a season.
  • About 35% of NFL quarterbacks miss at least one week in a season.
  • About 15% of NFL quarterback miss four or more weeks in a season.

If Bridgewater was as crucial to this team’s success as the Bradford trade indicates he was, and the backup situation was as bad as the Bradford trade indicates it was, that means Spielman was betting the upcoming season on Bridgewater’s odds of staying healthy.

He had chances to find a critical spare via free agency and the NFL Draft this year, but opted not to. He liked his odds of Bridgewater remaining healthy, despite the dubious state of the offensive line, and he lost big when Heinicke missed his chance to overtake Hill and Bridgewater’s knee gave out.

Spielman, to the liking of a great many fans, refused to expend valuable cap space and valuable draft picks to get more talented and deeper at the NFL’s most important position this last offseason. Now, with the cards not coming in Spielman’s favor, he has placed a new bet that has cost him both picks and cap space in a big way.

Even for those that might think Bradford is at least comparable to Bridgewater as a quarterback, the odds above still apply. There is a 15% chance that he misses more than four games this season due to injury, odds that are perhaps increased due to Bradford’s injury history and the pass protectors in front of him, and if that happens then Spielman is right back to where he was at on Friday… only with a lot fewer available options.

Spielman has essentially doubled-down on an existing gamble that had already gone very poorly for him.

THE POTENTIAL PAYOUT

Any gamble has the potential for success. Sometimes at varying levels.

This particular gamble actually has a huge jackpot that Spielman aspires to win. If the cards start falling a little more to Minnesota’s favor, and Bradford can stay healthy and help lead this team to a Super Bowl, then that is obviously a huge win for the entire organization.

I’m not sure what the odds are, and I’m not sure even Vegas knows what the odds of a Vikings Super Bowl appearance are at this point, but if it were to happen then Spielman looks like an absolute genius. He would be heralded as the bold executive that knew that his defense was lights out, knew that his Adrian Peterson window was closing, knew that the Bridgewater injury couldn’t be solved with the in-house options.

Of course, a Super Bowl would be worth a first and fourth round pick… that’s what we hope we’re getting each time a new class is drafted.

Even if a Super Bowl isn’t reached, the Vikings could certainly get a quality season out of Bradford, which could also yield a payoff for Spielman in the end. Not only does the on-field success of Bradford make for a better season in Minnesota, but if he can stay healthy and play well, then it isn’t inconceivable that Spielman could flip Bradford at a profit to a different needy team once Bridgewater is ready to return. Meanwhile, Bradford acts as the insurance policy that Spielman should’ve had in the first place until such time that Bridgewater is ready to return.

THE POTENTIAL LOSSES

Of course, with so many unknowns at this time, the worst case scenario involves Bridgewater never playing football at the level we expected him to play at in 2016. That same worst case scenario also involves a poor season, or even an injury, out of Bradford.

Not only would the Bradford acquisition failing make it harder for the Vikings to succeed in 2016, but the picks it cost Spielman to acquire him via trade would make it that much harder to solve future quarterback quandaries.

A total system failure, where Bridgewater’s injury really does derail his career and Bradford amounts to nothing, is a scenario that Spielman and the Vikings simply cannot afford.

If the cards continue to be dealt the way they have been in recent weeks… well, any realistic and intelligent Vikings fan can see where things would go from there. And it isn’t pretty.

THE SEASON AHEAD

Vikings fans have all the reason in the world to root for Bradford this season. They have all the reason in the world to cheer for Bridgewater’s speedy recovery. They have all the reason in the world for a presumably nervous Spielman to come out of all this smelling like a rose.

We’re just one week away from cheering on our beloved purple in their first season in their new home. We wouldn’t cheer for them to be a disaster, of course, but we all need to cheer just a little bit harder for this team to find short term success.

Their long-term prospects depend on it.

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Adam Warwas

Adam Warwas (Founder) has been writing about the Vikings for a total of eight years. Five of those years have been here at Vikings Territory where he continues to surround himself with enough talented individuals that people keep coming back. As proud as he is of what Vikings Territory has become, his real treasures are in his home... a beautiful wife and three amazing children (and a dog named Percy).

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51 Comments

  1. Great article Adam. Taking a day to digest this trade makes it look like a great deal. The price is right as far as the cash for salary. We have him under contract for two years and maybe, maybe we trade him if Teddy is back next year and get our draft picks back. GREAT DEAL!!!

    1. Thank you, Magnum… not sure that I agree that it is a great deal, but we only have to wait it out for a few months to find out.

      1. It wasnt a great deal but it was a deal that needed to made. If we go deep in the playoffs he will really look good. Not only that if he does great and the Eagles struggle the Eagle fans will freak out. It dont matter what there saying now. I would love to see them get the 32 pick in round 1. lol

  2. Of course it was a risk and a gamble, but it was a necessary one. When your starting/franchise QB dislocates his knee a week before the season, its a crappy situation, no matter what. The question was merely which unpleasant option do we take? Do we suffer through a season with Hill at QB and almost certainly miss the playoffs, or give up valuable assets to bring in a starting-quality QB? Given the state of the roster, opting for the latter is perfectly reasonable- a potential playoff berth is a terrible thing to waste.

    1. The crappy situation was created by Bridgewater’s injury only in part. Point being, the trade was a necessity, but only because Spielman allowed it to become one by refusing to invest anything other than the bare minimum into the QB position since Bridgewater was drafted. I’m not being critical of the Bradford trade, I’m being critical of the events leading up to it… especially now that it is crystal clear that this team did not at all feel comfortable with Hill or Stave starting football games.

      Giving up a third rounder six months ago for a better backup QB would’ve had the fans sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches. Now, because of an unforeseen injury that is more of an eventuality (not this specific injury, but missed time injury in general) has forced Rick to part with a first and a fourth.

      Necessity born out of being unprepared does not make something entirely excusable.

      1. You hit right on the head Adam. That is why I was so angry when they made this trade. For some reason, Spielman goes cheap on draft day when it is time to invest in the QB position. Hope he has learned his lesson. I still think this will come back to bite us. Hope I am wrong.

      2. Ok a little reality check time before any Spielman bashing. First, none of us would be in a position to complain, because without Spielman we wouldn’t have a contender, we would all still wondering how we get out of the yearly cellar. Second, No Spielman no Zimmer, end result same as above. Third, half the people who comment on these articles wanted Manziel, so that doesn’t exactly qualify any of us as genius when it comes to these things. Last, put your money where your mouth is and list me 10 backups in this league drafted or veterans that could get this team to the playoffs and make a run, I could probably find problems with that entire list. Spielman realizes this team is built to win and rather than say better luck next year, he’s manning up, taking the responsibility, and giving them a shot, with the knowledge of the risk, got to have respect.

        1. One last thing for thought, how do you think the Philly players feel?,They’ve been told their best chance of making the playoffs has just been traded, we’re rebuilding.

        2. You make a lot of great points, bfunke, for sure. I don’t know how long you’ve been reading here at VT, but if it has been awhile then I think you’ll find this article to be a rare example of me taking great exception to Mr. Spielman’s approach. I respect him and believe him to be a very solid G.M., but don’t consider him (or Zimmer for that matter) above criticism.

          And this is not just hindsight talking.

          Fenruary 15th I wrote: “You will never hear me cry about the Vikings drafting a prospect that doesn’t fill an immediate “need.” Wait for a few preseason injuries to happen, wait for a couple of games to be played, and then talk to me about your pre-Draft needs list.”

          In December, Austin’s “Question of the Week” asked what position the Vikings need to upgrade most during the offseason. I answered quarterback. Not because of a lack of faith in Teddy, but because him taking the “next step” was crucial and because the backup situation was horrid.

          Of course you can find problems with 10 backups in this league. I can find problems with 10 starters you list off to me… including the one we just acquired. As I said below, this isn’t about the unknown, it is about the known… and the Vikings knew their backup QB’s shouldn’t be starting football games, but they did nothing about it.

          1. I think QB depth only became a problem when Heinicke injured himself. I think he is a quality back-up and spot starter in the mold of the Frank Reichs and Pat Ryans of the past. And even then, I’m not sure the options out there for a back-up QB were any better than Shaun Hill. I’ve been critical of Spielman in the past but in this instance, I think he got the right guy at the right time and for the right price.

          2. I don’t disagree that the backups were a problem, but who was available? You can’t say we should have drafted one, the plain fact is during the draft no one is a proven commodity, from 1 to Mr. Irrelevant. The fact is Foles was never coming here and in our current situation that would have been our best option. What I am saying this not make or break for the Vikings future, just because a team drafts a kid in the first round doesn’t make him a sure thing. Your betting that he will work out. Like it or not Bradford is this teams best bet at the moment, and I’m not sure I could say that about other available players.

            1. Why was Foles not coming here? I saw that the Vikings called KC to see about trading for him.
              I’d feel better about him than Bradford.

      3. Well I do agree that the backup QB deficit is on Spielman I think there was a touch of sports psychology 101 involved. The Vikings gambled on sticking with Hill/Heineke on more year to solidify (mainly in Teddys mind) his hold on the franchise QB. They did not want a QB controversy. If he takes the step most were hoping for this goes away. They did it for him I’m saying. Backfired

  3. Ultimately I like the move. Just wondering, does Heinicke get to compete to start if he comes back mid season? Does Bradford get to compete when Bridgewater comes back?

    1. I know Heinicke is a popular name in Vikings nation, but compete to start? With Bradford? That seems highly unlikely unless that above-mentioned worst case scenario is already playing out.

  4. i’m sure the new stadium played a big part in all this. having a nice new garage is no good if your ride has a bad wheel

  5. Quite honestly I don’t see this as even a gamble. The Vikes were not making the playoffs with Hill, sorry Shaun, you’re a journeyman backup for a reason. Short of the Vikes having completely bombed that 1st rounder would have been mid to late, and if having top 1st round draft picks made you Super Bowl contenders the Lions would have a dynasty. Bradford has never been given the opportunity to play with a good team, motivation when it’s make or break. We can hope, but there are no promises Teddy comes back, truly I hope he does, he seems like a good kid, plus having him sit a year may benefit him. This is about saying we have a great team, and we are going to take a shot rather than sit on our butts crying about what should have been. So your not mortgaging the future because right now your weakest spot was QB, and it’s not so much a gamble as a will to win.

  6. Great article Adam. The thing is, I don’t think there’s any team that has a back up qb a fan base would be happy seeing on the pitch all season long. And I’m not sure even if we had picked one up 4 months ago the situation would be much better, still a non-starting level qb leading the team into a new stadium. The whole situation is compounded by the fact we have a generational talent nearing the end of his career, which puts all the more pressure on the from office to make a move. To be honest I’m glad they pulled the trigger. I wasn’t particularly keen to watch this team go through a year with Hill or whoever it is when he gets injured or any of the other names getting thrown around – Vick, Sanchez, Aaron Murray.. Sure Bradford hasn’t lived up to his talent, but he’s accurate, has good touch and a reasonable arm. If we can get him to play at his levels from last year – which I feel was better than Teddy AND avoid injury it will be a good year.

    1. Thanks SB!

      I have to disagree that other teams have ignored the backup QB spot to the same degree as the Vikings. We’ve seen that already this preseason with the other team that lost their starter… the Cowboys didn’t have to invest a first rounder to still maintain some optimism for the immediate future.

      Also, Green Bay and Seattle literally won Super Bowls in recent history thanks to their willingness to upgrade their backup spots. The Patriots have a bunch of them. Cincy made the playoffs thanks to investment into the backup spot and would’ve won that first playoff game if it wasn’t for the bizarre ending.

      Now, of course, nobody knew Tom Brady would become one of the best of all time. But this isn’t about what is unknown, it is about what is known, and the Vikings clearly knew that Shaun Hill and Joel Stave were not capable of quarterbacking this team to the ultimate goal. Yet they still invested minimally in the draft and free agency to do something about it. If your backups can’t actually play, why do you have them?

      1. Adam, do you think the investment should have been made before Heinicke’s injury? If so, I simply disagree with you.

        Alternatively, do you think the investment should have been made after Heinicke’s injury? If so, who do you suggest we could have gotten and how much were you willing to pay for them?

        1. Old Dominion. Undrafted. Second Year. No playing time. I’m okay disagreeing with you, ck, but yeah I don’t think he should be handed one of the most important positions on this team just because the coaches thought he *might* be better than a 36 year old Shaun Hill. Invest in the position, invest in competition… they did it at nearly every other position. And the results are showing.

          1. “Invest in the position, invest in competition… they did it at nearly every other position.” I think most of the players acquired via trade or the draft were brought in more to fill specific needs and holes than to compete with the incumbents starters or back-ups. And undrafted free agents and guys claimed off of waivers aren’t much of an investment.

            RB – McKinnon drafted to replace departed Gerhart. Asiata an undrafted free agent, as were Ham and Pressley.
            WR – Treadwell drafted for need, MoBo as a long-term investment/feel-good story. C. Johnson was claimed off of the Browns’ practice squad, and Thielen was an undrafted free agent.
            TE – Morgan drafted due to injury to Ellison.
            OT – Smith the “Shaun Hill” of free agent tackles brought in to “compete” with a gentleman more than likely to retire. I’ll grant you that Sirles was picked up to compete as a swing tackle.
            G – Boone signed for need. Fusco wouldn’t have had any competition for RG if Harris hadn’t practically begged to come back. Kerin and Faciane were undrafted.
            C – Easton acquired not to compete now but to take over in the near future.

            Summary: The big investments were made to fill glaring holes at WR, back-up RB and LG. Otherwise, moderate investments were made to fill positions open due to injury or the age of the incumbent(s), and little or no investment in players to compete with established starters or back-ups.

            DE – Moore was poached off of New England’s practice squad to compete with Scott Crichton, a failed investment, but Hunter was drafted as Robison’s eventual replacement, and Trattou is another undrafted free agent.
            DT – Toby Johnson’s an undrafted FA. Ellis was brought in after Stephen’s injury. I’ll grant you that Tom Johnson was probably brought in to push Fred Evans out the door.
            LB – Lamur WAS brought in to compete at WLB, and Brothers to compete for s spot on the bench.
            CB – Waynes was drafted to replace an ageing Newman. Alexander fell into our lap by surprise, though we probably would have drafted a CB to compete for the departed Josh Robinson’s roster spot.
            S – Griffin and Kearse were acquired to compete for the starting line-up and bench, respectively.

            Summary: The bigger investments were made in players expected to compete in the future to start, not right off the bat. Modest investments were made in veterans brought in to compete to start this year (one-year contracts) or in mid-round draft picks to compete for back-up spots.

            With Bridgewater, Hill and a Heinicke who had impressed the coaching staff, what would you expect the Vikings to do? Bring in another veteran back-up like a Matt Moore or Tarvaris Jackson to compete with Hill? Or draft a QB in the mid- to lower rounds to compete with Heinicke? Heck, Zimmer and Co. expected Heinicke to compete with Hill, so why bring in another higher-priced vet, and if Heinicke won the job, another college free agent could be brought in to try out for the #3 and/or practice squad position. Adam, if Heinicke had not impressed the coaches, I would’ve bet that they would have brought in some competition for him and Hill, but until his freakishly dumb injury, I think they thought they were sitting pretty. I’m not willing to give either Spielman or Zimmer a blank check but, in this case, I think they were right.

      2. Stave was a undrafted free agent this year, maybe they thought he was the next Tom Brady, highly unlikely, but that’s my point you don’t know it’s a gamble, and I wouldn’t say Dallas is in good shape just because of preseason, lot a people look good in preseason.

        1. I don’t follow this one at all, sorry. If they thought Stave was the nest Brady, he wouldn’t be on the PS and they wouldn’t have just shipped a first and fourth to Philly.

        2. And it absolutely is a gamble. There is a chance the Vikings win big (fingers crossed) and a chance that they lose their entire ante (a first and fourth rounder). As laid out above… it is a gamble on the future. Doing nothing also would’ve been a gamble.

      3. I can see where your are coming from, and sure some teams have been rewarded by finding a gem from the back up position but that is hardly the norm or easy to do, but let’s be real, very few teams have the capacity to lose their starting Qb for the entire year and win the Super Bowl. A back up qb is there to fill in if and when the starter goes down for a few games not to pilot a whole season – if they were that good they would be starting for another team. As for the packers winning recently – I don’t think they drafted Rodgers in the first round to sit on the bench.

        Also, I don’t think you can compare the Dallas situation (or patriots for that matter), dallas have a 36 year old injury prone qb coming off back surgery, who hasn’t played a full season in years. Not only did they not have an adequate back up on the roster, they didn’t have a future prospect. it is also the preseason and Prescott is playing behind a dominant o line. Finally, if ANY team new he was going to play this well he wouldn’t have made it out of the first round.

        The Vikings had a 23 year old TB, a young prospect they were high on, a solid vet that knows the system and can fill in for a few games and an undrafted development prospect going into this season. Unfortunately they lost two of them to injury. There weren’t too many options out there either earlier this season or in the draft that you’d feel comfortable taking you to the playoffs. So I’m just not sure what people wanted done? Who should we have traded for or drafted?

  7. One (admittedly unlikely) scenario not mentioned is that Bradford does so well, that he never loses the job, regardless of how well Teddy heals.

    Just optimistically throwing that out there, and please nice to that thought, as it’s very nervous and fragile.

    1. Yes, that is true… I didn’t mention that. Call it a mix of not wanting to jinx us and not wanting to give up on Teddy.

  8. I would say the best possible outcome for the Vikes and us fans….Vikings win the Super Bowl with either Hill or Heinicke, with Bradford playing very little.

    1. Oh for heaven’s sake, giving up a second round draft pick is not going to kill us and is well worth the price. And I’m not even sure you’re right, since Bradford would be getting paid $7 million to essentially sit on his hands.

      1. If we, yes we, won the Super Bowl. Would it matter? I’d rather win it with Hill and lose a 4th than win it with Sam and lose a 2nd. Who cares…the money is spent either way.

  9. Paid too much? Fans need to look at this as if your toilets are backed up on a Saturday and the plumber you call charges “weekend rates”! You gonna wait till Monday?

    1. Yup, you pay a premium when s–t happens, for sure. Which is why almost everything requires a little preventative maintenance.

      1. I get what you’re going for Adam, but we just traded a first and a fourth for a starting QB. How many teams have two starting QB’s on their team, one as insurance? The thing about true starting QB’s is that they want to start, and aren’t real pumped about riding the pine.

        Having our starter go down literally a week (or so) before the start of the season, with an excited fan base and a brand spankin’ new stadium is a bit of a unique situation. Bringing in a tried and true starter, as opposed to someone who “might” be ready, seems not only reasonable, but necessary, to me. I don’t know that anyone could have planned for this particular scenario.

        1. Exactly. Under the circumstances, I agree that something had to be done, and don’t disagree entirely with the move… I’m rather recognizing that the ramifications have a potential payoff and a potential loss.

          Leading up to the circumstances presented, however, I do actually believe Rick could’ve better planned so a premium payment wasn’t required.

          Planning for Teddy missing extended time should absolutely involve names over a two-year span that have greater value than Mike Kafka, Heinicke, Shaun Hill, and Joel Stave. Those names don’t represent a plan, they represent a hope.

          1. Except that the coaches obviously thought they had a plan AFTER they saw what Heinicke gave them last year. As I noted above, you’d be right if Heinicke had looked like, say, Bethel-Thompson or Kafka, but he looked a lot better than that.

  10. Good one Russ! I have always liked Bradford. I’m excited for this season, and the defense to beat on Rodgers!!! I tend to agree with ccarterhof. Any decent QB combined with our current talent and defense, Zimmer will take us along way. I Believe Bradford has that “extra” to HELP lead us all the way. I believe Peterson deserves a Supper Bowl ring (this year) for all has done for us. Maybe the next 2 also!!! How quickly can Bradford assimilate is the question.

  11. Nice breakdown, Adam. The one thing I disagree with is the idea that we “lose out” if Bradford also gets injured this season. in that case we haven’t lost out in the gamble but have just broken even, n’est-ce pas?

  12. Also, an interesting book title from those old high school reading lists comes to mind in regards to all this: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

  13. Also a book title from those old high school reading lists comes to mind in regards to all this: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

  14. There’s no reason to believe that Teddy won’t return at full speed and strength. I recovered from ACL reconstruction twice and we have seen many athletes far beyond my ability, recover and soar. Case in point would be Adrian Peterson. So before we give up on a quality man and Viking for our future, please stand with Teddy and support him through his recovery and rehabilitation. It’s a tough time without feeling like the fans have lost faith. Beyond that it’s time to support our team, meaning our new and old players and even the GM. Critics when constructive may help build direction, critical sounding off and pontificating is just whining and brings dissolution to a team. The worst thing that one can do to a TEAM! Get well Teddy! Welcome Sam! GO VIKINGS! !!!!

  15. Here’s one for the trivia junkies…how many teams have had 2 first round QBs on the roster at the same time? There is an old saying in the NFL that if you have two quarterbacks then you have no quarterbacks. Bradford is 28 and Bridgewater is 24 and both will be at the end of contracts in 2017. Performance and bad knees aside, this will get…interesting.

  16. Warwas is right, War-is hell! Impact of their injuries is like few others in sports. Its often interesting to see how the industry standard handles their business. lPatriots draft QBs almost every year. Gives them a ongoing chance to try a guy over the the rookie salary structure. In his third yr they traded Ryan Mallett as they drafted Garropolo. FOR A THIRD! How many guys that play less than 50 snaps bring a third rounder? Its such a uncertain science, QBing, its nice to have one or two vying to be your next guy. These next four games may even increase Jimmy G’s value a la Matt Cassel. Besides, young QBs in around the building keeps your staff sharp and busy.And did I mention Dak Prescott.. . .

    1. He also cost a third rounder and sat on the roster for 3 years when he was never going to ever start in front of Brady… He was also picked ahead of Sherman, Julius Thomas and a few other pro bowlers… What’s not to say Bradford plays well this year and we trade him next year for something decent?

  17. a lot of good points and analysis here. it seems like the best thing to do every draft is to take a QB anywhere from 4-7 (assuming you still believe you already have your QB of “now”, i.e. Bridgewater). This is especially true when you have good to very good QB coaches. It seems like the risk/reward is so high that you could always trade a QB drafted say in the 6th round, develops well over a couple years in the system, shows promise in pre-season that you could trade for say a 3rd rounder, “doubling” your investment, if it just becomes a numbers game. i guess it is similar to stockpiling pitcher talent in baseball. cannot have too much. The reason why Speilman tried to trade for Foles is probably because Heineken was lost for the first 4-5 games of the season. i think Speilman and company probably thought and planned that Heineken could comfortably be the back-up to TB and Hill no longer needed (how much more tutelage can he provide TB?)

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