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Zulgad: Releasing Jeff Gladney is right move, but Vikings can be questioned for taking him

NFL: Combine
Feb 28, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Texas Christian defensive back Jeff Gladney (DB10) speaks to the media during the 2020 NFL Combine in the Indianapolis Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings made the proper decision Tuesday when they released cornerback Jeff Gladney after he was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on a charge of felony assault against a woman with whom he had been in a relationship. But doing the right thing doesn’t erase the fact that Gladney will be added to the list of recent Vikings first-round picks to disappoint or provide little before leaving. There also is now the question of how the Vikings’ draft system let them down and led to Gladney being selected.

The list of recent draft issues starts in 2016 when general manager Rick Spielman took wide receiver Laquon Treadwell with the 23rd pick. The Vikings did not have a first-round pick in 2017 because of the Sam Bradford trade with Philadelphia (running back Dalvin Cook was taken in the second round), then selected cornerback Mike Hughes (30th in 2018), center Garrett Bradbury (18th in 2019) and Gladney (31st in 2020) in the opening round.

Spielman defenders will point to the fact that he grabbed wide receiver Justin Jefferson with the 22nd pick in 2020, using the selection Minnesota obtained from Buffalo in the Stefon Diggs trade. Jefferson looks to be a breakout star and the best of the six wide receivers taken in the opening round last season. That includes four drafted ahead of Jefferson.

But this doesn’t excuse the fact that Treadwell was a bust and ended up with 65 receptions in 53 games over four seasons. Hughes played in 24 games over three seasons before being traded to Kansas City this offseason after dealing with neck problems, and Bradbury is headed into a crucial third season in which his pass blocking must improve or the Vikings could be forced to look for a new center.

While draft picks are anything but a sure thing, missing on first-rounders isn’t something a general manager wants on his resume. Perhaps Spielman can take a mulligan on Hughes given his unfortunate run of injuries that started with a torn ACL as a rookie. But the Treadwell miss and what looks to be a potential miss on Bradbury can’t be ignored.

The Gladney pick also is on Spielman and the Vikings.

Spielman long has talked about how much time the Vikings put into vetting their draft picks and how important character is to the team. Something, obviously, broke down in the system when it comes to Gladney. He is charged with domestic violence by impeding breathing, for “intentionally, knowingly and recklessly” causing bodily injury and applying pressure to the woman’s neck and throat. Gladney’s former girlfriend filed a lawsuit against him in which she also has alleged that he tried to bribe her and intimidate her into keeping quiet.

“Following our review of today’s indictment against Jeff Gladney, we have decided to release Jeff immediately,” the Vikings said in a statement. “As we have previously said, we take these matters very seriously and condemn all forms of domestic violence. Due to the ongoing legal nature of this matter, we are unable to provide further comment.”

If he is convicted, Gladney could serve as many as 10 years in prison.

The 24-year-old started 15 games for the Vikings last season, but had been away from the team since he was arrested last April in Dallas. Among the players the Vikings passed on to take Gladney was former Gophers standout safety Antoine Winfield Jr., whose father played nine seasons with the Vikings. Winfield Jr. was selected with the 45th pick in the second round by Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers.

Spielman passed up a few other players he could have grabbed if he had held onto the Vikings’ original first-round pick (No. 25), instead of trading it to San Francisco so the 49ers could select wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. The Vikings swapped first-rounders with the Niners and also got fourth- and fifth-round selections.

Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer felt that Gladney would become a long-term starter in Zimmer’s defense. Instead, he is a former Viking after only one season. While that’s the right call, the Vikings don’t get complete absolution for making it.