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Zulgad: Under pressure? Vikings GM Spielman could find himself on the hot seat

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings’ plummet from a 5-0 start to an 8-8 finish resulted in plenty of well-deserved angst being directed at the purple. Some of it went toward coach Mike Zimmer, some of it toward quarterback Sam Bradford and much of it ended up being directed at an offensive line that was awful.

For the most part, general manager Rick Spielman appeared to avoid this unwanted spotlight. That likely won’t be the case if the Vikings fail to make the postseason again in 2017.

Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press had an interesting nugget in Sunday’s paper in which he wrote, “it won’t be surprising if the Vikings don’t reach the playoffs (again next year), if the front office gets flushed out.”

Walters has long written a notes column for the Pioneer Press in which he offers nuggets of information, so this was far from a guarantee that Spielman will lose his job if the Vikings don’t qualify for the playoffs. We’ll call it speculation that likely had a source tied into someone with the Vikings.

We also can say it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a disappointing 2017 will cause owner Zygi Wilf to seriously consider a change at the top. Spielman has been given plenty of time to make things work in Minnesota.

There are two chapters to Spielman’s time with the Vikings. The first dates to May 30, 2006, when Spielman was hired as the team’s vice president of player personnel after Fran Foley’s brief and embarrassing tenure with the organization.

In that capacity, Spielman played an important role in the decision-making process on matters such as scouting, the draft and free agency but he did not have final say over the 53-man roster. That job was held by coach Brad Childress, who served as the Vikings’ de facto general manager.

Childress was fired during the 2010 season and replaced by Leslie Frazier. For one season, Spielman and Frazier made decisions in tandem. That proved to be a bust and after a 3-13 finish in 2011 Spielman was named the Vikings’ general manager, giving him final authority over the roster and other front-office matters.

Frazier lasted two more seasons before Spielman fired him and hand-picked Mike Zimmer as his coach. With Spielman as GM, the Vikings have gone 41-38-1 and made two playoff appearances. Both resulted in wild card losses, with the first coming at Green Bay in 2012 and the second coming against Seattle in 2015.

Things appeared to be headed in the right direction under Zimmer as the Vikings rebounded from a 5-10-1 finish in Frazier’s final season (2013) to go 7-9 in Zimmer’s first year and then won the NFC North with an 11-5 record in 2015.

That finish earned Spielman and Zimmer plenty of praise and the Vikings entered 2016 with big expectations. But a 5-0 start that came after Teddy Bridgewater was lost just before the season because of a serious knee injury, and Bradford was acquired from the Eagles for first- and fourth-round pick, ended with the Vikings losing eight of their final 11 games.

Injuries were the primary reason given for the Vikings’ struggles, but some of this also fell on Spielman and how he built the roster. The Vikings lost both starting left tackle Matt Kalil and right tackle Andre Smith, and dealt with other injuries on the offensive line, but that did not excuse the fact that the Vikings had almost no quality depth to plug in.

The Vikings drafted tackle Willie Beavers in the fourth round last spring, but he became the highest draft pick in the NFL to be released before the season. Beavers was re-signed but he was considered pretty much unusable.

T.J. Clemmings, a fourth-round pick in 2015 and the starting right tackle as a rookie, spent much of this past season at left tackle despite the fact he was overmatched at nearly every turn.

The problem was that Spielman had far too often neglected the offensive line when it came to the early rounds of the draft. He took Kalil fourth overall in 2012, but otherwise hadn’t used a first-, second- or third-round pick on an offensive lineman.

We also will know by the end of next season whether the 2016 draft class was just slow to develop or a complete bust. The Vikings got almost nothing of note from that class and first-round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell had only one catch for 15 yards and three targets.

Then there is the matter of the Vikings’ quarterback situation. Spielman was largely responsible for the decision to take Christian Ponder 12th-overall in the 2011 draft and that turned out to be a wasted selection.

The Bridgewater pick – he was taken with last pick of the first round in 2014 – appeared to be a good one but his knee injury means Bradford is likely the team’s future at quarterback.

Dismissing Spielman likely would be difficult for Zygi and his brother Mark, who serves as the Vikings’ president. The Wilfs have talked about creating stability since the day they bought the franchise and yet they are on their third head coach and would be turning over much of the front office if they fired Spielman.

One would have to think that Zimmer also might be in trouble if Spielman departs, considering asking a new general manager to stick with a coach often doesn’t work out. Zimmer signed a contract extension last summer and, according to Walters, that deal is thought to be up after the 2019 season.

Keep in mind, Childress was given an extension in 2009 and had significant time left on his deal when he was fired a year later.

It might not be fair but there’s another factor in all of this that could result in added pressure on the Vikings’ brass. The Vikings will host the Super Bowl next season at U.S. Bank Stadium and the Wilfs are certain to want to see their franchise make a run to play in that game for fifth time in franchise history.

It would be one thing for the Vikings to make the playoffs and fall short. It would be another for the team to miss the postseason for the fourth time in Spielman’s six seasons as GM. Worst case scenario will see the Vikings finish out of the playoffs and the Green Bay Packers wind up in the Minneapolis-based Super Bowl.

How would Vikings ownership take this? One possibility would be by handing their GM a pink slip.

The post Zulgad: Under pressure? Vikings GM Spielman could find himself on the hot seat appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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