INDIANAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman talked both at the podium and in a side session with reporters at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. Here’s the biggest takeaways from his conversations with the media…
There have not been any specific reports that have stated the Vikings are trying to trade Stefon Diggs but it has been more of a smoke-fire situation since Diggs skipped two practices in Week 5 over reported frustration with the offense.
Spielman did what he could to quiet some of the noise by making it clear that the Vikings want to keep the band together on offense around Kirk Cousins. The Vikings know the value of Diggs in their offense and have turned down offers in the recent past.
If Diggs does want to leave Minnesota, he’s going to have to wait awhile. He’s under contract through 2023 and has very little leverage to force a move. Even if he attempted to hold out or pulled some type of Antonio Brown style social media campaign to get cut, the team can void his guaranteed money, which is not exactly a route Diggs wants to take.
As to whether Diggs is happy or not in Minnesota, well, the lack of an answer on such matters from Diggs — who is very much on social media — or Spielman gives the situation the feeling of being unresolved.
“He had his best season as a Minnesota Viking last year. I know how strongly our coaching staff feels about him, and when you have the ability to pair him and Thielen together on the field and the type of offense that we have right now on the field and you have the running back committee that we have on the field, we have some pretty good supporting cast around Cousins, and coming back, running the same system for the second year in a row, we don’t want to take a step back, and where we’re at with these guys, we want to keep all these guys moving forward. You want these guys on your roster.”
Asked directly if Diggs asked for a trade, Spielman said:
“I haven’t talked to his agent at all. And when I do talk to his agent, all those talks that I have with his agent are always going to be internal.”
The Vikings are in an interesting position with both their Pro Bowl quarterback and running back heading into the final year of their contracts. Spielman said that Cousins answered a lot of questions last year with big wins like his comeback over Denver, primetime victory over Dallas and playoff win in New Orleans. There is incentive for both sides to sign a contract extension before free agency — though Spielman noted that the team generally addresses extensions after the draft. The Vikings could lower his 2020 cap hit and Cousins could help create space to improve his offensive line and be settled on his future.
But there’s also reason to think that the Vikings could be taking a closer look at quarterbacks in this class if Cousins and his representation do not appear to be on the same page as the Vikings on a price tag and length.
As for Cook, the “Running Backs Don’t Matter” movement online might not be influencing the Vikings’ love for their 2017 second-round pick but negotiations could be tough for both sides. Spielman made it clear on Tuesday that he’s part of a young group that the Vikings want to go forward with but injury history and recent running back contracts blowing up may complicate the situation. Still the Vikings have always found ways to keep their top young talent — see: Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs.
“He’s right now in the prime of his career. I think him being under a system for two years in a row is also going to benefit him. I think he, like, the defense has been together for how many years? Six years? So, there may be some changes on the defensive side, and offensively, these guys haven’t been together for that long. So hopefully those guys will continue to grow and develop as a unit. And plus, with Gary kind of leading that charge on that side of the ball, that you should continue to see progress as we move forward.”
“I’d put Dalvin in the same class as I have all our other young guys, whether it’s Danielle Hunter [or others] we’ve always tried to keep our core, young talent that we draft and develop. Kennedy Polamalu has done a phenomenal job at that position. We’ll look at that. Usually we do not look at extensions until after we get through the draft. Right now, we have so much ahead of us and a lot of decisions to make before free agency begins and the new league year begins, and then we look at the draft once we settle down and everything. But I consider Dalvin as one of those core group of players that we definitely want to try to keep.”
The Vikings tried to improve the offensive line last season and it only worked marginally. They put together a better season as a run blocking unit but ranked 27th by PFF in pass blocking and Cousins’s sack and pressure rates were similar in 2019 to his 2018 marks. If they are going to repeat Cousins’s 2019 season or take his play a step further, the Vikings must keep him from getting pressured — some of which is no doubt the QB’s own doing.
Spielman said that this year’s draft is deeper with tackles, which could give the Vikings a chance to pick a tackle in the second round and look to develop that player into a starter in 2021. Moving on from starting left tackle Riley Reiff at this point could be difficult because rookies often struggle in their first year. None of the top three rookie tackles in last year’s draft scored higher than a 64 grade (out of 100) by PFF and Atlanta’s Kaleb McGary allowed 13 sacks. In a win-now year the Vikings can’t risk that. That could point to signing a guard in free agency as the instant solution along the line.
Spielman noted that some positions are different from others when it comes to players jumping in and making an instant impact as rookies. For example, if the Vikings had to move on from Everson Griffen, they might be able to find a first-round pick who could get pressure on QBs right away. But the cornerback position — where they have a significant need — is harder. The Vikings do love their first-round corners but that also might be a spot that gets filled in free agency.
On the O-line:
“I think it’s still a work in progress. I think when we went to the outside zone guys that have to have specific physical traits we’re looking for, I think that’ll be an area we continue to try to improve. But we made tremendous strides from last year. I give a lot of credit to Gary Kubiak and I give a lot of credit to Rick Dennison and Andrew Janocko for what they did to develop those guys. I think we have two really good, young cornerstone-type players in Brian O’Neill and Garrett Bradbury. I think we’re going to continue to grow and develop that. To me, all the passing and everything that’s done in this league, you want to win up front in the trenches – both offensive and defensive sides.”
On tackles being a strength in this draft:
“Last year the interior was a little stronger. This year, I think there’s some tackles out there. Some of them, as we go and get to know these kids a little bit, may be ready to go right off the bat. You know, we didn’t think Brian O’Neill was ready, and all of a sudden he had to go in halfway through, and he played very well his rookie year for jumping in there. But I think there’s some tackles in this draft that will be able to step in and have significant careers.”
On rookie corners playing right away:
“I think it’s one of the hardest positions because of the rules that they’re allowed to get away with in college. The rules, and there are specific physical traits in order to play in Zim’s defense you have to have, so that eliminates a lot of potential guys for us too, because it’s pretty tailored to what he’s looking for.”
The Vikings have 17 free agents, no cap space and a handful of players either over 30 years old or approaching 30 that have seen their play slip recently. Most notably among them is Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph. The Vikings could create around $19 million in cap space by releasing both of them. They could also look for trade partners on both players but it seems unlikely that there will be much interest.
Spielman did not offer any insight into which players might be staying or restructuring deals.
“Xavier has been a Pro Bowl corner, you know? He maybe had not as great of a year as he’s had in the past, but he still helped us win games. So he’s just one of them, just like every other player. We talk about the practice squad guys. And then you take each one of those individual players and then assess where they’re at in their career and where they’re at financially and then you make decisions.”
On letting long-time Vikings go:
“That’s always the toughest part of this position, because ultimately you have the final decision on who stays and who goes. I know if you do have the tendency to move on, there’s a right way to do it, and hopefully you do it with dignity. I know, you know, one of the hardest ones was B-Rob’s situation, when we had to let B-Rob go. That’s a guy who was not only a great football player for us on the field, but a fan favorite, a super human being in the community on everything he’s done. Those decisions are extremely difficult, but in the end it’s a business, and you have to make business decisions, and you have to remove yourself from the emotional side of it.”
Mike Zimmer/Rick Spielman contract extensions
Both the head coach and GM’s contracts are up after this year. While they have had a good deal of success over the past six years under Zimmer, there are still questions about the future. Ownership will have the option to either sign one or both to short or long-term extensions or let things play out on the final year of their deals — which would be quite unusual.
The most likely scenario appears to be extensions considering the Vikings met expectations by making the playoffs and winning a road playoff game against New Orleans. Whether extensions could be longer or shorter term might be based on how strongly they believe that the current combo can get them back to an NFC Championship and beyond.
“The ownership came out and made a very strong statement on Coach Zimmer. We expect him to be our coach next year and beyond. He’s done a phenomenal job leading this football team. I think he’s not satisfied either. We all want to sit here and win this thing, and by the coaching staff that he’s assembled and the changes that he had to make on the coaching staff tells you that we don’t have a lot of egos in our building and that everybody, we’re trying to get the best talent we can. And we are able to get the best talent we can because of the support that our ownership gives us to go out there and to get a Dom Capers, to get a Gary Kubiak, to put the coaching staff together. All coach Zim wants to do is to assemble the best guys, and whatever he feels we have to do to get to where we need to go, he’s going to do that.”
On whether he had anything to announce on that front:
“I’m not going to get into any business discussions on that.”