FeaturedQuestion Of The Week

On the Hot Seat in Minnesota?

When looking at the calendar, it’s only been four months. Checking my gut, it feels like years since I paced the streets outside the Vikings training camp facility at Mankato State University. I spoke with as many fans as possible about their faith in the Vikings organization.

It was hot and dirty, but I stayed after practice longer than usual chatting because I was blown away by the amount of credibility head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman had with the fan base. Coming off another disappointing playoff loss just 8 months prior, the faith in the organization had come back around. Comparisons to Bud Grant and the New England Patriot dynasty were made. Optimism was at an all time high.

Now, after five losses post bye week, Vikings territory is in a panic and the rug has once again been pulled out from under us.

As we all know, the NFL is unpredictable, but your ability to predict the uncommon provides job security. This leads us to this week’s “Question of the Week.”

Should Mike Zimmer or Rick Spielman worry about job security?
Sam Neumann:

Absolutely not.

Both have taken their lumps this season. For Spielman, the depth he has built across much of the team’s roster–which allowed the Vikings to start 5-0 despite a rash of injuries–has been largely overshadowed by the poorly constructed offensive line as the season has unraveled. It’s true that, even at full strength, the line is a crippling weak link, but Spielman’s failures in drafting offensive linemen are at least balanced out by the many steals he has found in other areas, and the boldness he has shown in taking the necessary steps to keep the team competitive (see: Sam Bradford).

As for Zimmer, discerning fans are noticing a chink in the armor for a man Vikings Nation has lionized since he arrived at Winter Park. There have been numerous instances of poor clock management, and while it’s a stretch to say the team is being out-schemed on defense, the patented “Zim Reapers” have looked like mere mortals for much of 2016, and coaching plays a large role. We’re entering a stretch that will be very telling in terms of Zimmers aptitude as an X’s and O’s coach and a leader of men. But even with all this considered, and the impact Mike Zimmer has had on the Minnesota Vikings still weighs heavily in favor of the positive. They’ve shown steady progression since he took the job, from a hapless also-ran to the 2015 NFC North champions. The fact that we’re lamenting the realization that this is not a Super Bowl team shows just how far things have come in three seasons.

With both Zimmer and Spielman, the question is simple: who would you rather have? If either were to move on or be fired, would the Vikings be able to find a replacement that would be a marked improvement? The answer, of course, is no, and that’s why both will be in Minnesota for the long haul.

BJ Reidell:

Unless Vikings ownership believes the Cleveland Browns represent the apex of NFL personnel management, Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer should not be even slightly worried about their positions in Minnesota.

Has the 2016 season been a bit of a disaster thus far? Sure. Should missing the postseason following a 5-0 start be viewed as a fireable offense? In some cases, sure. Have Spielman and Zimmer done an excellent job assembling a competitive roster that gives the Vikings a chance to win every single week even in spite of an insurmountable number of injuries? No doubt.

While a further defense of their job security is honestly unnecessary, Minnesota also signed Zimmer to a contract extension this past August, which, in combination with the new contract he would inevitably receive as a head coach or defensive coordinator elsewhere, would make him a very wealthy and wrongfully terminated former Vikings coach.

Oh, and one more thing — which presently available general manager-head coach combination would represent an upgrade over these two studs?

Austin Belisle:

The irrational fan in me says “yes,” but I’m a rational guy, and I see no reason Spielman or Zimmer should start sweating. This season’s been quite the roller coaster, but that’s football — you grip the bar tightly through the ups AND the downs. In just three years, Zimmer’s turned the Vikings into a competitive playoff team on the field, and without Spielman’s careful roster-building off it, that would’t have been possible.

One unfortunate rough patch isn’t enough to warm the seat of either Zimmer or Spielman. Sure, they’ve both made mistakes — Zimmer’s clock management and Spielman’s inability to draft offensive linemen — but there’s not a duo in the league I’d rather have in Minnesota. Look where the Vikings were three years ago, and look how much they’ve grown, especially on the defensive side of the ball, since then.

I’ve learned, though it’s taken time, that patience is a virtue. These aren’t the Cleveland Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars, stuck in a valley of inescapable mediocrity. Sure, things aren’t going well for the Vikings now, but injuries and constant roster turnover are culprits in this strange, midseason stretch. The needle is still pointing up for the Vikings, and there’s still a chance they make the playoffs at the end of the season. And if not, there’s always next year. And fortunately for Vikings fans, Zimmer and Spielman will be leading the charge.

Brent LaBathe:

It’s way too early to question the job security of either Zimmer or Spielman – the issues the Vikings have faced this season go above and beyond the norm in the NFL.

That said, everyone saw the issues with the offensive line coming from miles away and Vikings seemed complacent to simply sit back and wish for luck in health and production with their depth chart.

Furthermore, is there room to be skeptical of our praise for the recent draft classes after watching how the season has panned out? The recent first round draftees haven’t necessarily produced like first round draft picks and the depth we were so confident about now seems to be in question.

Not time to hit the panic button as there seemingly seems to be more good than bad when looking at this team, but the NFL provides a rather short fuse and improvements surely need to be made.

Adam Patrick:

Absolutely not.

Given the start the team had at the beginning of the season, everyone can clearly see that the Vikings were capable of great things this year. But unfortunately their season has gone off the rails after their roster has been demolished by the injury bug.

Between the two, Spielman is on the shorter leash. If the Vikings struggle next year and don’t see an improvement in their roster, he could be looking for a new job.

Britni Hemmer:

As of right now, I would say no. Even if this ‘16 Vikings squad continues on their downward spiral, I think it would take at least another solid year of suck for the organization to consider making a move at either position, especially the head coach.

Mike Zimmer has not only won over the hearts of his locker room, he’s won over the hearts of a fan base who not too long ago were chanting “fire Chilly” and watching the door slam on an unsuccessful and mundane Leslie Frazier era. Not only is his fiery call-it-like-I-see-it attitude incredibly refreshing, his passion and dedication to his craft inspires and uplifts the entire time. It’s no secret the defense has significantly improved under him, but you can tell that players of all phases want to go out there every week and live up to his expectations. This is Zimmer’s team and for now, in Zimmer we trust.

As for Rick Spielman, he still hasn’t proven his ability to properly evaluate the QB position (Ponder with the 12th overall pick still haunts me to this day) and now more than ever we are seeing his lack of quality OL picks (or just lack of in general) to come back and bite us in the rear. However, his willingness to move up or down in the draft has made it a pretty compelling event for Vikings fans. He has one of the highest retention rates in the NFL for his picks from 2007-2015, and with the acquisitions of Jared Allen, Brett Favre, and most recently Sam Bradford, he’s shown his readiness to go out there and make the big splashy moves that will help his team win. It remains to be seen if Spielman’s biggest gamble yet, trading next year’s 1st round pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford, will pan out. Like it or not, I have a feeling we will have a couple years to find out.

Ali Siddiqui:

No. Zimmer has played a huge role in the defense improving a lot these past three years. Does he do a bad job managing the clock at times? Yes, but he’s a great defensive mind and does a great job getting through to his players.

Spielman has made some questionable decisions since being promoted to GM in 2012, but has also brought in plenty of talent (Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Eric Kendricks, Linval Joseph, etc). He could have paid more attention though towards upgrading the offensive line, which outside of signing Alex Boone and Andre Smith, he has not brought in many other lineman.

This team was off to a hot start at 5-0, but constant injuries have really played a huge role in it. Do Zimmer and Spielman deserve some blame. A little, but not enough to lose their jobs. All in all I believe the Wilf’s really appreciate the work these two have done and it would take a lot for either to be gone.

Joe – PurplePTSD:

This question is pretty apt, at least for me, because I sort of brought this up last night on the purplePTSD.com podcast. Essentially, I had said that it’s time that we (perhaps) re-assess Rick Spielman’s status as some sort of ‘draft genius’ or infallible being. Before I get into that, though, I do want to say unequivocally, that the only hot seat that Zimmer is/or should be on is the one that he involuntarily soiled during or after his eye-ball surgery last night.

As I also mentioned on the podcast last night Zimmer has had sort of a rough go thus far in his tenure as the Vikings head coach. In 2014 he lost Adrian Peterson after one game, in 2015 he had to deal with Peterson’s completely unreasonable but somehow acceptable (something that should be a knock against Spielman as the man with the check book) contract demand(s) and this year has been just a mess that no one (‘s eyeball) could handle.

So, does that mess extend to Spielman as well? Yes and no. I would argue that this mess is partially Spielman’s fault. Sure, losing seven or eight lineman (depending on how you count them), your starting quarterback and your starting running back, is something that no team can really overcome. The fact that the Vikings did start 5-0 is a testament to the defense that Spielman has built (or has he?) and the move he made to bring Sam Bradford in as quarterback. However…

I do believe that the Vikings wouldn’t be in this position had they drafted more lineman since… Really earlier this decade. After drafting Matt Kalil fourth overall in 2012, the Vikings have invested 11 draft picks in offensive lineman. Of those 11 picks, only two are as high as the fourth round, the rest were after that and after thoughts, with many/most not making the team. So, while a team has only so many draft picks, it was clear last season and during the free agency period this season that that neglect has come back to bite the Vikings. Again, the Vikings have had extremely bad luck when it comes to the injuries that they’ve suffered on the offensive line, but those injuries can be expected when you’re shopping/overpaying for lineman in their 30’s, a lot of whom have extensive injury histories.

Because of that overpaying for the lineman (and other positions) the Vikings have next to no cap space, something that they’ll have to figure out this off-season as they yet again attempt to rebuild their offensive line. There are other lingering issues as well, when it comes to the objectively terrible picks this team has made at the wide receiver position in the past decade, namely when they go after SEC receivers. Of the seven SEC receivers they’ve drafted, the best of the bunch is Jarius Wright, a receiver who seemingly can’t make it on the field this year despite injuries to Diggs and questionable depth.

So, I don’t realistically think that Spielman is on the hot seat, either, at least right now. But I do think that his aura is starting to dissipate, regardless of his relationship with the Wilf brothers. While a lot of the picks he has made have been partially or totally dictated by the coaching staff, at the end of the day he is responsible for the team that is on the field right now and the most important position on the team (outside of quarterback, which is another argument against Spielman (Ponder, and Teddy perhaps never coming back?), or at least the most important collective position on the team, is in complete disarray and in need of a complete rebuild. Unfortunately it looks like this team also doesn’t have the money to pick up actual good free agents or a first round pick, either.

The best way to sum it up is that if your team is in a position where it essentially needs to re-sign Matt Kalil (who is the highest paid left tackle in the league this season, strike seven, Spielman) you know someone really screwed up. He’s got another season or two to go before people really start to turn on him (internally), but I do think that he needs to re-assess his approach immediately, to be honest, while we re-assess our view of him.


Brent LaBathe

Brent LaBathe (Contributor) Cloud technology leader by day, sports nut by night, Brent is a local purple diehard who's passion for the team boarders on obsession. After graduating from St. Cloud State in 2008, he was a contributing writer for mvn.com and has always had a passion for writing. When he's not cursing his golf clubs for failing him yet again, he's constantly on twitter @BrentLaBathe.

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4 years ago

Joe – PurplePTSD: “There are other lingering issues as well, when it comes to the objectively terrible picks this team has made at the wide receiver position in the past decade, namely when they go after SEC receivers. Of the seven SEC receivers they’ve drafted, the best of the bunch is Jarius Wright…”

Oh for goodness sakes. Joe’s seven SEC receivers drafted by the Vikes must include Troy Williamson, who was drafted in 2005. First, simple math here, but a decade is 10 years, and 2005 was 11 years ago. Second, Spielman was working for ESPN in 2005, so he bears no responsibility for the Williamson pick, at all. But setting aside Williamson and 2005, it is utterly and totally silly to say that Jarius Wright – 129 receptions, 7 TD’s, 14.1 yds/rec – has been the “best of the bunch” of Vikings SEC WR picks! Better than one-time Pro Bowler Sidney Rice and his 243 catches, 30 TD’s and 14.8 avg. (and his stats are still better minus 2009 and Brett Favre)? Better than Percy Harvin, with his 280 catches and 20 TD’s in four seasons with Minnesota, not to mention his All-Pro kickoff return skills and Offensive Rookie of the Year Award? Hell, given his renaissance this year, I wouldn’t even rate Wright higher than Cordarelle Patterson, with his 16 overall touchdowns in four seasons. As for the rest, Williamson pre-dates Spielman as noted above, Greg Childs was an injury-gamble that failed to pan out, and Laquon Treadwell is a rookie that even his critics over at Pro Football Focus think could eventually develop into a #1 receiver. And, lest anyone suggest that Spielman hasn’t drafted the “right kind” of “classic” or “pure” wide receivers when drafting Harvin and Patterson, let’s remember that they were perfect fits for the offenses run by Greg Childress and Bill Musgrave. Let’s also not forget that Wright’s numbers are not bad for a fourth-rounder and shouldn’t be judged based either on the player’s or the fans’ inflated estimation of his ability.

4 years ago

I am the last person that you could call a Spielman apologist – if you can find them, see my VT comments regarding him and Antoine Winfield and Kevin Williams, free agency in general, and his defensive draft picks being generally better than his offensive ones – but let me rise to partially defend his offensive line drafting here.

— Some first round draft picks WILL be busts, and Matt Kalil is a bust. It happens to EVERY general manager, so I’m not going to shred Spielman for the Kalil pick, even if some thought it a bit of a reach at the time.

— As I noted under Sam’s “Elephant in the Room” piece (my comment there could do with a do-over), Spielman’s 4th- through 7th-round offensive line draft picks have been only marginally below average in terms of games started. He made up for that, though, in signing Joe Berger (and Zac Kerin, now that I think of it) and trading for Nick Easton and Jeremiah Sirles.

–The quality of Spielman’s OL drafting isn’t really the problem, or his filling out of the roster with veteran or young benchwarmers and prospects.

–The problems with the OL are:

1. Yes, Kalil is a bust.
2. The team has been trying to replace Charlie Johnson at LG with converted RG’s (Fusco and Boone).
3. Injuries and ill health, of course.
4. Playing musical chairs with Clemmings, Sirles and Long (a worthwhile gamble at the time) seems to have set back both youngsters after they initially got out of the gate pretty well (Sirles) or at least passably (Clemmings).
5. Lastly and most importantly, Spielman and Zimmer took a reckless gamble this past off-season that Tony Sparano would fix Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt might be healthy enough to play, and if he wasn’t, that Andre Smith could still be an adequate starter at RT. They should have gone out and gotten better alternatives at both tackle spots, but especially at LT, via trade, free agency or the draft, or at least committed to Clemmings and Sirles competing for the starting jobs instead of for swing back-up. And they could have saved some money for the tackle positions by signing an actual LG, Matt Slauson, for less money than Alex Boone, a RG or OT playing LG.

So ultimately, it all still comes down to left tackle. Boone and Berger are adequate-to-good starters, Harris would have been better than Fusco, and either Sirles or Clemmings should have been starting at RT all year. But after a healthy Matt Kalil failed to prove himself last year, changing the line coach was not nearly enough off-season insurance for the position, and bouncing Clemmings between LT and RT disrupted both his and Sirles’ development in-season.

Next year, we must move on from Kalil at LT and RG must be addressed if Harris can’t make it back. I’d like to see Spielman trade for fewer but higher draft picks for once and snag at least one left tackle and one guard in the first three rounds, no matter what he can get from free agency or via trade. And I’d like Zimmer to dial it back and not throw another position coach under the bus or tell the skill players that they would no longer have any excuses now that management had gone out and fixed the OL.

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