Jimmy Kennedy (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
The Vikings’ workouts and visits have started to become public, and just like interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine, Senior Bowl or pro days, it’s hard to tell how much it really means.
Much of the recent draft buzz surrounding the Vikings has been centered on quarterbacks. Cam Newton got the private workout treatment. The team was reported to have had dinner with Blaine Gabbert following his pro day workout. Andy Dalton has gotten more than a cursory once over. Jake Locker reportedly had a private workout with the Vikings.
Is all the talk, all the meetings and all the hoopla something fans should take seriously? Probably not.
I’ve been covering Vikings drafts since the days when the team first came out of the stockade placed upon them by Mike Lynn in the Herschel Walker trade. Every year with just about every player, there are the standard list of questions that invariably get asked early. Among those are “did you know the Vikings were going to take you?” and “how much did the Vikings talk to you before draft day?” More times than not, you find that the players the team showed the most interest in publicly weren’t the players they drafted.
Almost nobody from the third round on has typically said they thought the Vikings would draft them because they had almost no one-on-one contract with the team other than talking to scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine or a pro day. Guys like Adrian Peterson, Randy Moss and Kevin Williams had almost no personal contact with the Vikings prior to being drafted. The stories of Percy Harvin and his road trip/tickle fight with Brad Childress are truly against the norm when it comes to the Vikings’ draft strategy. More often, the less contact the team has had with players has made it more likely that they have an interest.
In the undercover world of the draft, the Vikings are one of the teams that has a long history of not tipping their hand. Teams like the Buccaneers have taken the opposite approach. Draft analysts have been able to pinpoint the players they like, especially in the first round, because the team has always had an open policy about discussing players they like. Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden fell in love with Cadillac Williams at the Senior Bowl and wasn’t shy about letting people know it. The Vikings have taken the opposite approach – to the point of creating some bad feelings at times.
In 2003, the Vikings were best known for botching a trade with the Baltimore Ravens that allowed two teams (Jacksonville and Carolina) to jump in front of them in the first round of the draft. The Vikings didn’t lose any sleep internally for their national humiliation. They got the player they wanted anyway (Kevin Williams), which got then-coach Mike Tice running his mouth after the pick – perhaps more in a move to cover his own butt than to be overly forthcoming with the assembled media.
Tice, who faced a chorus of boos (and an extended middle finger from an elderly woman who walked up to the stage so Tice could see her) from Vikings fans at the annual draft party following the selection of Williams, had to ask the crowd to “calm down” after the pick was made. Tice attempted in his own feeble way to explain to fans why the team loved Big Kev so much and why he was going to be loved by Vikings fans. He was right. Williams was an excellent pick, even if the team was unaware that a couple of other franchises were going to jump in front of them and potentially take him away from them. But it opened the door that allowed fans to see the man behind the curtain when it came to the team’s draft process.
In 2003, Red McCombs wasn’t too excited about dusting off his own coin purse to fly players in for visits/workouts. They did work out players, but, for the most part, kept their intentions close to the vest and didn’t drop too much in the way of information … with one notable exception.
A couple of weeks prior to the draft, the Vikings brought in defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy for a much-publicized workout. They made a point to let the local media know Kennedy was coming in for a pre-draft visit. They planted the seed in the minds of other teams that this was a player they were interested in when, in fact, they had no intention of taking Kennedy. The worst part of that scenario? Kennedy knew it all along.
This story likely would have remained unreported had Kennedy not bounced around the league and finally ended up as a member of the Vikings. When asked about the visit years after the fact, Kennedy said he never wanted to come to the Vikings after making his pre-draft visit. He said he got a horrible vibe from the Vikings brass – much worse than any team he visited prior to the draft. Ironically, the Rams, which eventually took him in the first round of the 2003 draft, were one of the teams that barely spoke to Kennedy in the pre-draft process. But the Vikings were another story.
“I knew from the minute I got here that they weren’t interested in me,” Kennedy said. “You get a feeling about things like that. It seemed like they were using me to let other people know, ‘Hey, here’s a guy we’re interested in’ when it was obvious to me that they weren’t. When I left Minnesota, I called my family and said that I hoped they wouldn’t draft me because I never wanted to come back to Minnesota again.”
Kennedy was so soured by the experience that he was hesitant to sign with the Vikings when he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars and was becoming a journeyman whose resume included three teams at that point and didn’t want to the Vikings to be the fourth. He relented and found a home in Minnesota, which he said was one of the better moves of his career – providing the first stability of his career. As hard as it was to believe, despite being drafted in 2003, 2010 was the first full season that Kennedy returned to a team with the same head coach, defensive coordinator and position coach of his career. Clearly that streak ended with the firing of Childress and the promotion of Leslie Frazier to head coach.
Kennedy is one of dozens of top draft picks that have been subject to this kind of treatment from teams looking to draft them, but not wanting to tip their hand to other teams that may have an interest in the same player. Should fans take anything from the meetings with Newton or Gabbert? Probably not, because Gabbert is almost assured of not being on the board when the Vikings are set to pick at No. 12 and Newton isn’t very likely to still be there either.
Like it or not, it’s part of the politics of football and the pre-draft strategy that teams employ to mask their true intentions. The Vikings will talk to numerous players and work out several prior to the last weekend in April, but history tells us the players they may have the most interest in are the ones they don’t talk to, not the ones they wine and dine.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.