Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman stares at the monitor on his home computer, watching the clock wind down. At that very same moment, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, sequestered in “Zimmer Ridge Ranch” in Walton, Kentucky, is also watching the clock, waiting to see what the Philadelphia Eagles are going to do with the 21st pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Vikings own the 22nd overall selection in the draft, and much of their draft strategy will be determined by what the Eagles do with that 21st pick.
The Coronavirus pandemic has forced the NFL to conduct a draft unlike any before it. Instead of each team going to their respective headquarters and gathering around a massive draft board in their “war room”, the NFL had to make sure that each team’s management had adequate technology to conduct the draft via Zoom from their respective homes while the country tries to find normalcy in this annual rite of spring that has grown to become almost as big as the Super Bowl itself.
The ears of both Spielman in his suburban Twins Cities home, and Zimmer at the family ranch, perk-up as they hear a disembodied voice proclaim, “With the 21st pick in the NFL Draft the Philadelphia Eagles select… wide receiver Justin Jefferson, from Louisiana State University.”
That’s not what happened of course, but what if it had?
I mean. Think about it, the Vikings got lucky last year.
BIG TIME lucky.
For whatever reason, Eagles General manager Howie Roseman, who needed a wide receiver just as much or more than the Vikings did, decided to make Jalen Reagor of TCU the 4th wide receiver taken in the first round of the 202 NFL Draft, dropping Jefferson, NCAA football’s most productive receiver the previous season, right into the purple’s collective lap.
For almost a year now, the Vikings and their fan base, egged-on by armchair pundits, have been congratulating the Vikings for pulling-off a trade that worked out as good, or better than anyone had a right to expect, especially Spielman and Zimmer. But who deserves the credit? Rick Spielman or Howie Roseman?
The narrative goes something like this; In the off-season the Vikings traded disgruntled wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for the Bills first round draft pick in 2020, the 22nd overall, as well as Buffalo’s fourth-round, 5th-round and sixth-round selections, while sending a 7th-round pick back to the Bills.
That first-round pick, because of Philly’s fateful draft day decision, became Jefferson, who went on to rewrite the NFL receiving record book for a rookie. So, while Diggs continued to develop into an elite player at the NFL’s second-most glamorous position, the Vikings brass and fan base has been wrongly back-slapped for having done as well as possible with the bad hand that Diggs had dealt them.
But, did they?
I mean, think about it. What if Philly takes Jefferson? Do the Vikings then take Reagor? If so, what does Jalen Reagor do with the opportunity given to Justin Jefferson? Would he have been as successful with the same opportunity?
Is the pick at #22 cornerback Jeff Gladney, who the Viking later took with the 31st pick in the first round?
What does the Vikings offense look like without Jefferson? Would they have managed the 7-9 record they struggled to attain without Jefferson’s record-setting contribution?
Is Mike Zimmer still the head coach of this team? Is Rick Spielman still the team’s general manager?
Is the correct answer to any of the questions above “Yes”?
Maybe, but let’s face it, while it’s all speculative the answers to most of those questions lean heavily towards a resounding “No.”
So, now we wait to see what Spielman and Zimmer will do with their latest escape from the unemployment line. As I see it, both got a reprieve from Case Keenum’s unlikely season in 2017, a year that included the “Minnesota/Minneapolis Miracle” win over New Orleans.
The second great escape for Spielman and Zimmer came in 2019 when the Vikings beat the Saints again, this time in New Orleans, before going out and getting thoroughly embarrassed by the 49’ers in the NFL Championship game.
Then, came the unexpected present from Howie Roseman and the Philadelphia Eagles, who gift-wrapped the “steal of the draft” in Justin Jefferson, who turned out to be much more than anyone not named Justin Jefferson was expecting him to be.
Yet, even with that “gift” the best the Vikings could do was a 7-9 season that more closely resembled a dumpster fire than a .500 club. All three areas of the team were historically bad in one area or another, and if you want to talk just about Vikings Special Teams, they were historically bad in almost every department.
So, what have the Vikings done on the off-season? They’ve used free agency to fill needs on the defensive side of the ball while making minor moves to address an offensive line that has been quite frankly, “offensive” for years.
Which brings us back again to the NFL Draft, and perhaps Spielman and Zimmer’s last chance to stick around beyond the season ahead.
So, let the “mock drafts” commence and let the speculators speculate on what the Vikings will do on draft day. The only thing I know for sure is that the Vikings can’t count on the team in front of them to get it wrong as big time as Roseman and the Eagles did last year.
As someone once told me, “Luck is not an effective business strategy”, and it’s certainly not one that the Vikings can count on this time around, no matter how lucky they got last year.