Rick Spielman held his usual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday afternoon and, as usual, provided as little information as possible.
Spielman was more than willing to get into specifics when it came to how the draft would be run at TCO Performance Center — much different than last year when everyone had to work from home because of COVID-19 — but that was about it when it came to candor. Spielman did make one thing clear: “There’s no position that is off limits going into this draft.”
Spielman was being vague but he wasn’t lying. This is a guy who has drafted kickers and long snappers. The only thing that’s certain is that Spielman will spend the three-day draft wheeling and dealing and almost certainly will wind up with more than the 10 picks the Vikings currently possess. Last year, Spielman made 15 selections, the most picks for any team since the seven-round format began in 1997.
The one thing Spielman rarely has done since being promoted to general manager in 2012 is select quarterbacks. Since that time, he has taken 93 players and only two have been QBs. The Vikings traded back into the first round in 2014, the first draft with Mike Zimmer as coach, to select Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd and final pick, and last year Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley was the second of the Vikings’ four seventh-round selections. The Vikings did sign Washington’s Jake Browning as an undrafted free agent in 2019, but he has spent two years on the practice squad.
There is little chance that Browning or Stanley is considered a future starter, and 32-year-old Kirk Cousins is entering the second to last season of his contract and has missed the playoffs in two of his first three years in Minnesota. So could this be the draft when Spielman uses an early-round pick on a quarterback for the first time in seven years?
Spielman’s most famous, or infamous, quarterback selection came in 2011 when he took Christian Ponder with the 12th selection. Spielman was the Vikings’ vice president of player personnel at time and while he played a key role in the draft process, technically he and then-coach Leslie Frazier both had a say in shaping the roster. Spielman wanted to find a quarterback of the future and Frazier wanted a veteran starter.
The result was the Vikings acquired Donovan McNabb from Washington for Frazier and Spielman took Ponder in an opening round in which four quarterbacks were selected. McNabb was an immediate disappointment and Ponder turned out to be a complete bust. Spielman’s decision to take Bridgewater looked to be a far better one until his leg buckled on the practice field at Winter Park just before the 2016 season.
For the past two seasons, veteran Sean Mannion has served as Cousins’ backup, but Mannion remains a free agent and likely won’t be returning to Minnesota. That opens the door for the Vikings to draft a quarterback to serve as Cousins’ backup. The team has done plenty of due diligence on this quarterback class.
The question is when might Spielman take a QB?
The Vikings have the 14th pick and could be presented with an interesting opportunity if Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Mac Jones falls to them. That seems unlikely, considering a quarterback-desperate team like Washington could trade up if one of the three begins to tumble, but the only certainty seems to be that Trevor Lawrence will go first to Jacksonville and Zach Wilson second to the New York Jets.
The Vikings’ need at offensive tackle, and Zimmer’s desire to add a pass rushing right end, creates a possibility that if a QB falls to them, Spielman would trade that pick and try to get a second-rounder. Moving back into the 20s almost certainly would guarantee the Vikings a quality player on defense.
The Vikings also have two third-round picks with which to work, selections 78 and 90, the latter having been acquired from the Ravens in the Yannick Ngakoue deal as the trade deadline neared last season. Of course, it was the Ngakoue trade that cost Spielman his second-round selection.
The likely non-first-round quarterbacks who could be on the Vikings’ radar include Stanford’s Davis Mills, Wake Forest/Georgia’s Jamie Newman, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and Florida’s Kyle Trask. The advantage the Vikings would have in taking a quarterback like this is that there wouldn’t be a competition for the starting job. Cousins has that role and, unless he gets injured, that almost certainly wouldn’t change.
That would give the Vikings the advantage of time in developing a quarterback, while having him under contract for four years (assuming it’s not a first-round pick). It also could lead to a smooth transition when Cousins departs and, if all goes well, could provide a long-term solution to a position that far too often has had short-term fixes in Minnesota.