Vikings general manager Rick Spielman remained predictably non-committal on anything involving the draft and the team’s first-round pick this week.
That’s part of NFL 101. It’s an entry-level course. Spielman has been around long enough to teach NFL 301, 401 or the rare graduate-level NFL 501 course. Tuesday was no exception.
Scarcely taking a breath, Spielman was able to make a convincing case that the Vikings will use the third pick in the draft on offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Or on wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Or on cornerback Morris Claiborne. In one fell swoop, he sent the gospel of misinformation and the law of vague statements forth to the rest of the NFL’s decision-makers.
Spielman was both cagey and repetitive when asked if he thought his pick was “intriguing” because the third pick is really the first pick of the 2012 draft that is up to debate (or trade).
“Everything’s intriguing this time of year,” Spielman said.
The reality of the modern era of the NFL draft is that teams conceal their true intent. General managers, those who are the talking embodiment of the franchise, let out what they want the local fans to hear. More importantly, they let out word to the rest of the league of their official party line. The truth related to those statements are subject to debate.
Spielman was asked (in vain) to lay out the pecking order of the three players he has identified (Kalil, Blackmon and Claiborne) as possible picks at No. 3. It was couched in terms of the positives and negatives of each. Ever the salesman, Spielman claimed all three are in the can’t-miss category given their lack of negatives – a statement puzzling on its face because no player is without weakness. However, Spielman responded, saying the positives for all three outweigh the negatives for one simple reason.
“There are no negatives on those three players,” Spielman said. “We look at it and just look from a needs standpoint. Blackmon has had a very productive career. You guys have all written about him, what he can bring to this offense. Our philosophy is trying to get our young quarterback as many weapons around him as we can. You look at some of the teams that have a lot of success in this league and they have a lot of weapons to help their quarterback out. We’ve talked about as (QB Christian Ponder) grows and he gets the ball out of his hand quicker, as long as he has weapons to get it to, that’s going to make him efficient.”
So, Blackmon is the guy, right? Not so fast. Before a follow-up question could be asked, Spielman deftly moved on to discuss Kalil, who has been the consensus projection to land at No. 3 with the Vikings’ pick. Just as he made a case for Blackmon, he made just as convincing a case for Kalil.
“We’ve talked about (Kalil),” Spielman said. “How often to you get an opportunity to get a blue-chip offensive tackle? You also have to look at it as, Are these guys ever going to be available in the unrestricted free agent market? Would you ever be able to get a blue-chip left tackle in the unrestricted free agent market? You weigh that in. But how important is the left tackle compared to having another playmaker on offense? He doesn’t put points on the board.”
Without missing a beat, Spielman immediately broke into the justification for taking Claiborne, making perhaps his most persuasive argument of all.
“Morris Claiborne is maybe one of the most talented corners I’ve seen come out in a long time,” Spielman said. “He has very unique ball skills. He can play press and man (coverage). I know just reading the papers that we’re a Cover-2 team, but that’s not the case. We play some Cover-3. We play a lot of Cover-1. With (defensive coordinator) Alan Williams and (head coach) Leslie (Frazier) coming and maybe some tweaks to the defense, how does (Claiborne) have an impact on our defense? You look at the quarterbacks that we play, you look at the receivers that we’re playing against in this division. To have a shutdown-type corner is also very intriguing.”
In the span of one answer to one question, Spielman let the word out that any of the three would be worthy of selection with the No. 3 pick. The ironic part is that the most likely draft day trade would have the Vikings trading back to No. 5 (with Tampa Bay) or St. Louis (No. 6), allowing either team to move ahead of Cleveland to take running back Trent Richardson – not one of the three players on the Vikings’ medal stand. In the chase for gold, T-Rich wins the zinc on the Vikings draft board, but could be the lynchpin to the Vikings making bold moves on draft day.
In a dream scenario, the Vikings cut a deal with Tampa Bay and acquire a pick to let them checker-jump Cleveland and take Richardson at No. 3. Cleveland then takes Claiborne at No. 4. Convincing St. Louis that Jacksonville will checker-jump them, the Rams cut a deal to move to No. 5 and take Blackmon. The Vikings, two mid-round picks richer, take Kalil at No. 6 – accumulating picks, paying less money for his slot on the new rookie pay scale and opening options for future moves up into the draft with their new trade ammunition.
Will it happen? That depends on how much of what you’ve heard about team interest in specific players you choose to believe. Personally, when it comes to the draft, I would trust about 10 percent of what I hear and less than 50 percent of what I see. It’s that cloak-and-dagger, making that scenario all speculation at this point.
When asked the extent of how much false information, subterfuge and masked intentions are prevalent at this time of year, Spielman spoke the full truth – for perhaps the first time in his media session.
“Is there any truth out the right now, to be honest with you?” Spielman asked rhetorically, somehow finding a way to dismiss the truth of everyone else, yet at the same time making his own claim of honesty.
Welcome the NFL 501 graduate course, where GM stands for Generic Misinformation at that time of year.
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.