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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Rick Spielman’s moves put Vikings in a position to succeed

By Judd Zulgad

How quickly can things change in the NFL?

Just ask Rick Spielman.

A few months ago it was fair to speculate whether the Vikings general manager might be in jeopardy of losing his job if the team had another disappointing season. Today, there’s a case to be made that Spielman is in line for NFL executive of the year honors.

This comes after an offseason in which Spielman retooled an offense that finished 29th in the league in 2016 and was a big reason the Vikings won only three of their final 11 games after starting 5-0.

Mike Zimmer deserves credit for the coaching job he has done, but it’s Spielman who has final say over assembling the Vikings’ 53-man roster and has had that power since being named general manager in 2012. (Spielman was hired as the Vikings vice president of player personnel in 2006 at a time when then-coach Brad Childress had control of the roster.)

That means Spielman gets much of the credit for jettisoning running back Adrian Peterson last offseason and signing free agent offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers as well as running back Latavius Murray. Spielman also drafted running back Dalvin Cook, who led the Vikings with 354 rushing yards when he suffered a torn ACL in Week 4, in the second round and then took starting center Pat Elflein in the third round.

A year after having no real backup plan for if something happened to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and then needing to trade a first-round pick to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford when Bridgewater suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury just before the regular season, Spielman made sure he did not repeat the same mistake.

This time he signed veteran Case Keenum to a one-year, $2 million contract that has proven to be a bargain since Bradford has appeared in only one game since the opener because of a knee injury and is now lost for the season.

While Zimmer hasn’t attempted to hide the fact he would like to get Bridgewater back on the field, Keenum has proven to be godsend, throwing for 12 touchdowns while winning six of his eight starts and entering in relief of Bradford to lead the Vikings over the Bears in early October.

The Vikings fell apart last season for a variety of reasons, including injuries that sidelined both offensive tackles and Peterson. It didn’t help matters that Minnesota had no real backup plan when left tackle Matt Kalil was injured and spent much of the year attempting to start the completely overmatched T.J. Clemmings at one of the most important positions on offense.

Spielman’s 2016 draft class also did little to contribute with first-round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell finishing with one reception on three targets in nine games.

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander (second round), offensive tackle Willie Beavers (fourth round), linebacker Kentrell Brothers (fifth round), wide receiver Moritz Bohringer (sixth round), tight end David Morgan (sixth round), linebacker Stephen Weatherly (seventh round) and safety Jayron Kearse (seventh round) all did little to nothing.

The Vikings did not have a first-round pick this year because of the Bradford trade, but they did get an immediate impact from their top two picks, with Cook showing star-like potential before he was injured and the athletic Elflein looking like a long-term solution at center.

Spielman is the one who made the 2015 deal that brought left guard Nick Easton from San Francisco. The only starter on the offensive line remaining from last season is veteran Joe Berger and he shifted from center to right guard. It was Spielman who signed backup tackle Rashod Hill off Jacksonville’s practice squad last year. Hill has filled in at both tackle positions this season and started the last two games on the right side in place of the injured Remmers.

Spielman’s best call when it comes to the line might have been acknowledging one of his worst mistakes. The Vikings had signed left guard Alex Boone to a four-year, $26.8 million free-agent deal in March 2016, but when it became obvious the veteran was no longer a fit in training camp, the Vikings paid him $3.4 million in guarantees and cut him.

While Treadwell appears to be a bust, Stefon Diggs was a fantastic find in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and good luck helped Adam Thielen fall into the Vikings’ laps in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State in Mankato.

Pat Shurmur has done an outstanding job coordinating this unit but it’s Spielman who did the grocery shopping to give Shurmur the necessary ingredients.

Zimmer’s ability to scheme is a main reason the Vikings’ defense has become one of the best in the league, but Spielman played an important role in bringing some of the key pieces aboard before Zimmer arrived in 2014.

This includes defensive end Everson Griffen, a fourth-round pick in 2010; cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the 25th-overall pick in 2013; and safety Harrison Smith, whom the Vikings took with the 29th pick in 2012 after swinging a draft-night trade. The Smith trade looks like one of Spielman’s best, considering the former Notre Dame star has turned into one of the top defensive players in the NFL.

Considering the Vikings still have six regular-season games remaining, including a Thanksgiving Day tilt in Detroit, Spielman remains a long way from getting any postseason awards. But at least he no longer has to listen to questions about whether he will need to be looking for a job this offseason.

The post Zulgad: Rick Spielman’s moves put Vikings in a position to succeed appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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