There are varying philosophies that teams employ when it comes to free agency and the draft as forms of building their teams. The Vikings signing of Greg Jennings last week was a franchise rarity – big-time free agent signings with the Vikings have been rare over the years and, for the most part, have paid off. For every bust like Bernard Berrian, Donovan McNabb and John Carlson, there were the acquisitions of veteran stars like Antoine Winfield, Pat Williams, Steve Hutchinson and Jared Allen that became cornerstones of the franchise.
The only short-term fix the Vikings acquired in free agency over the last decade was Brett Favre and anyone who was a hard-core fan in 2009 knows how magical that season was.
The Vikings have taken on the organizational philosophy under general manager Rick Spielman to build the team through the draft. It isn’t original. Some of the best franchises in the league have used the draft as almost the exclusive route of building their franchise – Baltimore, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and New England to name a few. What do those teams have in common? They’ve all won at least one Super Bowl championship using that formula.
On the flip side, other teams are always making noise in March when free agency begins. Washington has burned more money than any franchise in the league by overpaying veterans on the back ends of their careers. The Redskins probably would be doing it again this year if not for the NFL punishing them for actions during the uncapped year prior to the lockout. Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Tennessee, Oakland and Kansas City have all built a reputation of spending big in free agency. What do those teams have in common? They’ve enjoyed some success in a given season, but none of them have sustained success or won a Super Bowl in the free agent era.
This approach has had a double-edged effect. It has resulted in a “win now-or-bust” attitude. It also sends a message to their own home-grown players that, if they’re willing to hand out eight-figure contracts to outside players, they should have the attitude about paying their own players. It often causes a division within the organization that engenders some discontent. The same teams that make the most noise in March rarely see that translate into success in January or February.
A look at the reshaping of the Vikings roster under Spielman’s watch displays how the Vikings have approached the draft as the primary source of building the franchise. The only Vikings draft picks currently on the roster that weren’t acquired before Spielman was on the job in 2007 are Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway. Other than those two, draft picks from previous regimes are all gone.
Drafts under the Spielman watch have yielded the vast majority of the Vikings full- or part-time starters, including two quarterbacks (Christian Ponder and Joe Webb), two running backs (Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart), a tight end (Kyle Rudolph), four offensive linemen (John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, Brandon Fusco and Matt Kalil), four defensive linemen (Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Everson Griffen, and, considering the team gave up three draft picks to acquire him, Jared Allen), five defensive backs (Jamarca Sanford, Chris Cook, Mistral Raymond, Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson) and a kicker (Blair Walsh).
In six seasons running the Vikings draft, 20 key contributors of the Vikings were acquired through the draft. The Vikings have entered each draft with a clear-cut plan of the positions they want to address and have brought the franchise back to respectability by bolstering their weakest positions. Looking at where the Vikings have addressed their draft needs under Spielman’s watch, there are only two areas in which the Vikings don’t have players on their roster – wide receiver and linebacker. You can’t fault the Vikings for their receiver choices – Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin both became stars in Minnesota before moving on to Seattle.
With two first-round picks in next month’s draft, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Vikings address their areas of most need – wide receiver and linebacker – with those two picks or two of their first three picks in the draft. It’s how Spielman has built the new-look Vikings roster – identifying weaknesses and, barring an elite talent like Peterson falling into their laps, using those picks on positions of need. It’s worked so far and the feeling is, if it isn’t broke, why try fixing it?
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.