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Takeaways from Vikings GM Rick Spielman’s pre-draft conference call

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman gave his annual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday — though it was on a Zoom call rather than at the podium at TCO Performance Center. Inside the new draft war room known as Spielman’s home office, the Vikings’ GM touched on an array of subjects. Here are the key takeaways..

The Anthony Harris situation…

The Vikings surprisingly franchise tagged their starting safety, setting him up with an $11 million cap hit for next season. Considering the team has numerous openings and only $12 million to work with (per OverTheCap), it seems unlikely that the Vikings will spend over $20 million on their safety position in 2020. That leaves either a contract extension or draft-night trade. ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported the two teams have re-opened discussions about a new contract. Spielman went out of his way to praise Harris, which might be an attempt to make it clear to the rest of the league that he won’t be moved unless the price is right.

“I know we have some big changes in the secondary,” the Vikings’ GM said. “One of the things — not only is Anthony Harris a great football player for us, and great in the community — but by us being able to franchise Anthony, we do have the safeties pretty well set, knowing that we’re going to have a lot of young corners we’re going to have to line up and play with.”

Harris was the second ranked safety by PFF this year and his performance combined with the usual excellence of Harrison Smith kept opposing teams to 10th in the NFL in passer rating against despite struggling outside corners.

We may never learn the extent of tension between Stefon Diggs and the Vikings 

Spielman made his first public comments since trading away the team’s No. 1 receiver from 2019. At the NFL Combine he said the team did not intend to move Diggs but insinuated that Buffalo’s offer was too good to turn down.

“We had no intention of trading Diggs at the combine,” Spielman said. “He was a great player for us. He was great in the community. But then there was an opportunity, a business opportunity, that came up as this evolved that we felt was both good for Stefon and was for us, and we decided to go ahead and make the trade, but we’ll always appreciate everything that Stefon has done for us here in Minnesota and wish him nothing but the best.”

Not that we could have expected a full play-by-play of the behind-the-scenes events between Diggs and the organization but Spielman didn’t open the door to discussing any of the reasons the Minneapolis Miracle receiver was unhappy with his situation in Minnesota despite another strong overall season. That leaves us to put the pieces together from Diggs’s decision to skip practice last year to his cryptic tweets to leaving Mike Zimmer and Spielman out of his goodbye on the Player’s Tribune. 

Spielman has his mega virtual draft board

When the Vikings opened up TCO Performance Center, one of the most game-changing features was the interactive draft board. It takes up an entire wall in an auditorium and is designed to have the team’s rankings and the ability to click each player and call up analytics, game tape and scouting reports. The Vikings’ IT team deserves a raise after finding a way to transition Spielman’s interactive mega board onto a smaller computer screen that he can use at home.

“That is a replica of exactly what we have in the draft room,” Spielman said. “What you guys saw with that big board (in TCO), the IT people were able to duplicate that board on a smaller scale but the exact same function that we had. Cheryl Nygaard and Paul Nelson and what they were able to replicate is….this board you see behind me is the exact draft board we have in our draft room and I’m able to click names and manipulate the names like I showed you last year, to pull over groupings, to restack it, everything I was able to do in the draft room, I can do right now from my home.”

Everson Griffen’s exit appears final

The Vikings’ Pro Bowl defensive end announced earlier this month that he would be signing elsewhere but left the door a crack open in an piece about his absence in 2018. Griffen is yet to find a new job, though he has been rumored as a target for the Seattle Seahawks. Spielman was asked directly where there was still a chance Griffen could come back and the Vikings’ GM did not hint at any possibility of that happening.

“All of those guys, not Everson but everybody in general that we lost, were great people for us. Great players for us. And we’re just going through a little bit of an evolution on the roster right now,” Spielman said.

Second round may be a hot spot for the best-fit receiver

This year’s receiver class has been touted as one of the best in draft history with a myriad of different types of players — from high-end athletes like Denzel Mims to polished route runners like Michael Pittman. Spielman talked about how different teams will value some of these players differently depending on their circumstances. That could open the door for the Vikings to find a receiver beyond the first round who they think can fit with Gary Kubiak’s offense rather than feeling the pressure to grab one higher in the draft as they might in a year with less depth of talent.

“This has to be one of the deepest classes that I’ve seen in a long time,” Spielman said. “I would say there’s all kinds of flavor — there’s speed guys, speed guys with return ability, bigger guys that are excellent route runners. I think you’ll see there’s a lot of teams that kind of go towards what their offensive scheme is, and what fits them. I know a lot of the discussions we’ve had on these receivers is, ‘How are they going to fit in our offense?’ We have a pretty good sense of the type of receiver that helps the quarterback rise and what’s important on those traits. There are a lot of good options, and like I said, I don’t think only in the first round … you can get a lot of good receivers throughout this entire draft.”

Trades could happen before the draft starts

This year’s extremely unique situation could change how trades are done, according to Spielman. Normally teams see how the board plays out and start making phone calls during the allotted time in between picks. This time around they could be trying to get trades locked in before the start of the draft. Spielman said he’s already having discussions on potential deals.

“Usually it’s going to be active when you’re on the clock,” he said. “I think we’ve had a lot more discussions. I’ve taken in three calls today already. I think you’re probably going to see trades locked in earlier just because I think everybody’s going to be a little nervous when you’re on the clock and whether a glitch happens or not.”

The Vikings are in an advantageous position to trade down with the 22nd and 25th picks and plenty of positions to fill.

Undrafted free agents will still be an important part of the mix

While some recent drafts haven’t gone Minnesota’s way in the later rounds, they have invested heavily in undrafted free agents and come across some quality players, including cornerback Holton Hill, who may end up playing a prominent role next season. Spielman said that they will continue to push to recruit the best players who aren’t selected.

“I know our coaches have talked to a lot of those guys … that we could draft late or could be free agents,” he said. “We’ve really, really spent a lot of time on that. So with the amount of players that we need to get, I’d rather get the quality, because I know the young guys are going to have to come in and contribute. And then as we evolve, next week I think there will be a lot of guys still available out there as we fill in for our camp roster. But since we don’t have a rookie minicamp next weekend, we don’t have to be at 90. We can take our time.”


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