Five Takeaways From Vikings GM Rick Spielman's Pre-NFL Draft Press Conference
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman held his annual pre-draft press conference via Zoom on Tuesday. During the conference, he touched on the challenges and importance of this year's draft, as well as last month's trade of Stefon Diggs and much more. Here are the five main takeaways.
1. The Diggs trade was a "business opportunity" that was too good to deny
Rumors about Diggs being unhappy in Minnesota had been circulating – on and off – since he skipped practice last October. They picked up again early in the offseason, but Spielman quieted some of the noise by telling reporters at the NFL scouting combine that there was "no reason not to anticipate" Diggs being a Viking in 2020. On Tuesday, he confirmed that his statement was true at the time.
"We had no intention of trading Diggs at the combine," Spielman said. "He was a great player for us. He was great in the community. It was an opportunity that came up and evolved that we felt was good for Stefon and for us, and we decided to go ahead and make the trade."
On the day of the trade, March 16th, Diggs tweeted that it was time for a new beginning. That led to teams calling the Vikings, who were able to work out a deal with the Bills after several hours. Things changed rapidly, and Spielman capitalized by getting a strong return for a player who made it clear he wanted a change of scenery.
"It just came to a point, I think, where the draft capital we were able to get for him was the best business decision for us, and it was also a good business decision for him” Spielman said.
2. A hint that Anthony Harris will be a Viking in 2020?
One of the more interesting subplots of the Vikings offseason thus far has been the situation with Harris, the breakout safety who led the NFL in interceptions in 2019. He was set to receive a big-time payday in free agency, but the Vikings surprised everyone by using the franchise tag for just the third time ever to keep him from hitting the market. They remained open to trading Harris after tagging him, and now are reportedly discussing a long-term contract. The future remains up in the air, and a trade is still certainly a possibility.
However, Spielman's comments on Tuesday may have implied that he expects Harris to be on the team next year.
"Not only is Anthony Harris a great football player for us, and great in the community — but by us being able to franchise Anthony, we do have the safeties pretty well set, knowing that we’re going to have a lot of young corners we’re going to have to line up and play with," Spielman said.
That sure makes it sound like Harris will be back. But then again, circumstances can change quickly, and there could always be a trade possibility that Spielman decides is in the team's best interest. He declined to comment further on the likelihood of Harris being in Minnesota next season.
“I’m not going to get into the business side of it," Spielman said. "I know right now he is franchised.”
3. The Vikings have adapted well to the virtual aspect of this draft
This year's draft is going to be unlike any of its predecessors, as the coronavirus pandemic has caused everything to go virtual. Spielman praised the Vikings' IT staff for getting everything set up and working smoothly in the team's preparations for the three-day event.
"What they’ve been able accomplish as we’ve been through a month of virtual draft meeting and to replicate what we actually do in the building together, we haven’t missed a beat on how we operate," Spielman said. "I can say from our preparation, it’s been almost identical except that we’re doing it virtually now."
Spielman added that the online meetings have been so smooth, he thinks they'll consider utilizing it more frequently even when it's no longer necessary. He also mentioned that the mock draft the league conducted on Monday went well outside of one hiccup at the beginning, and that both the team and the league are very prepared from a technology standpoint.
"If something fails with me dialing in a pick, we have three people that can do that from three different locations," Spielman said. "So, if the first person goes down, the second person will have a name and so will the third person. If there’s a communication gap between us and the NFL, there are hard lines there that we’ll be able to call as well. I think everybody at the NFL office and all of the IT staffs have really thought through this and all of the possible scenarios."
4. Don't expect the Vikings to pick at both 22 and 25
Spielman is known for moving around during the draft, having made 32 such trades in eight years as the team's GM. Roughly 75 percent of those deals were to move back in the draft, but Spielman said he has heard from teams both ahead of and behind the Vikings' two picks late in the first round.
"I've had calls already, opportunities of people trying to trade up, and I've also had teams that are in front of us that wanted to trade back," Spielman said. "I think it all depends how the draft board unfolds on Thursday. For example, I would say if we stay at 22, and we have maybe seven or eight names still up there, to move back from 25 to gain another pick and still get the same quality of player."
That last part is important. I do think the Vikings should consider moving up from 22, but even if they don't, it seems like moving back from 25 is a very strong possibility. The depth of this draft is such that the Vikings can probably get a very similar prospect in the late 30s or 40s that they can at 25.
"I know our philosophy is going to be to keep the same philosophy and try, with all the draft capital that we do have, to go manipulate that board and go get the players or move back if we do have enough depth on our board left to accumulate as many picks as we can."
5. Yes, the wide receiver class is ridiculously deep
It's been said for months now that this year's class of receivers is one of the deepest to enter the league in a long time. As a result, there could be players going in the second round who would normally be first-rounders, and players taken in the third, fourth, and beyond who can compete to be starters. Spielman agrees with that assessment.
“This has to be one of the deepest classes that I’ve seen in a long time," he said. "I would say there’s all kinds of flavor — there’s speed guys, speed guys with return ability, bigger guys that are excellent route runners. I know a lot of the discussions we’ve had on these receivers is, ‘How are they going to fit in our offense?’ We have a pretty good sense of the type of receiver that helps the quarterback rise and what’s important on those traits. There are a lot of good options, and like I said, I don’t think only in the first round … you can get a lot of good receivers throughout this entire draft.”
"With the depth of this class and how we came out of our meetings with how the coaches felt very strongly about players, even into the fourth and fifth round, there were significant types of receivers that we really think we’ll be able to nab in that area as well."
That could be an argument for the Vikings to avoid taking a receiver in the first round. Given how many needs they have, it might make sense to wait and target the position later on in the draft. But Spielman preached that the Vikings will stay true to their board and take the best player available, so that could certainly be a first-round wideout.
Three bonus quotes
- "We've prepared just as hard for other drafts as we have for this draft. The difference is that a lot of these guys that we're bringing in are going to have to probably contribute and play for us next year as we fill some holes on our roster. We feel not only in that first round but throughout the draft we'll get guys who will be able to come in and contribute right away."
- "As we talk through this corner class – and we went a lot in depth on which guys are going to fit from a schematic standpoint – there are some corners in this draft that will get drafted that we may pass by because it doesn’t fit from a schematic standpoint for us. I know coach Zim is pretty particular with the traits that we look for at that position."
- "We’re not going to be done building this roster after the draft. We’ve talked to some teams. After the draft, I think you’ll be able to potentially fill some needs with some minor trades maybe. There’s still some guys available out there in free agency that you’ll look at."
The draft kicks off at 7 p.m. central time on Thursday night.
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